- Series: Harvest Book
- Paperback: 240 pages
- Publisher: Harvest Books; First edition (September 25, 1963)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156443791
- ISBN-13: 978-0156443791
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 104 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #285,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Inheritors Paperback – September 25, 1963
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As a fan of both Joseph Conrad and speculative fiction I was initially intrigued by the premise of this novel; a journalist has a chance meeting with a bewitching but inscrutable woman who claims to have come from another dimension to help her people colonize our own. However, in the end, the supernatural theme was of little consequence to the story. The 'fourth dimensionalists' could just as easily be agents of some fifth column group or foreign power. Putting that misdirection aside, the novel still falls short of Conrad's typical fine storytelling. The story takes many long digressions dealing with the journalist's reluctant career progress and conversations with other writers and publishers. While it eventually gets around to connecting events to the mysterious woman and her purpose, the result was far too mundane to justify the agonizingly long, slow way in which the protagonist comes to realize, accept, and eventually regret his role as a pawn in a political power play. I suspect the somewhat aimless pace of the story is attributable to Ford Madox Ford's collaboration. Conrad's novels typically have a much greater tension and stirring imagery.
The word that kept coming to mind as I read and thought about this book was "clever." Writing about life from the Neanderthal perspective poses a challenge, and Golding used some clever devices to describe the limitations of primitive beings. Golding's Neanderthals communicate by gesture and empathy as much as by language. Their names are simple compared to the polysyllabic names of the humans. The Neanderthals live very much in the here and now; they aren't good at planning; when they talk about doing something new they say they have a "picture" of it, as if they are having a vision. They search for food only when they feel hunger; if they're sated they don't bother to store food for the future. They prefer not to eat meat but they will if one animal has been killed by another; they don't want the "blame" of causing an animal's death. They have a touching burial ritual but they don't appear to contemplate the possibility of an afterlife.
A startling event occurs toward the end of the novel that makes the whole thing rather depressing, particularly for those who (perhaps unrealistically) expect humans to behave more civilly than Neanderthals. Golding may be saying that the simple decency of primitive life was supplanted by early humans who (like those who followed them) lacked respect for other forms of life, killed ruthlessly, and used their wits to advance at the expense of others. If Golding is saying that these are human traits, the product of an evolutionary imperative, I don't know that the point is particularly profound (although it might have seemed so in 1955 when the book was first published). Still, the story illustrates that lesson in an entertaining way. The last chapter shifts to the point of view of the humans: again, a clever way to distinguish between the dying past and the evolving present, and a device that adds insight by demonstrating that the human's view of the Neanderthal may not have been much different than the Neanderthal's view of the human.
According to the cover blurb, some critics think The Inheritors is Golding's best work (and Golding apparently thought so himself). I prefer Lord of the Flies, but The Inheritors is worth reading. I would give it 4 1/2 stars is Amazon made that option available.
As a teacher, I've found this to be a terrific novel for teaching about the clash of cultures, fearing what we don't understand, different ways of seeing, thinking about and imagining the world in which we live. Students never fail to enjoy it.