Wednesday August 10th, 2011

Golding at 100

September marks the centenary of William Golding’s birth. I’ve only read Lord of the Flies, and so long ago that it only survives in my memory as a punchline for chaotic situations. (And I wouldn’t even have to have read it to know that.) Golding’s British publisher has reissued Flies, which was his first novel, and The Inheritors, his second. John Self takes a look at the less famous novel, which is told from the perspective of a group of Neanderthals:

Evolution is the invisible character in the book, driving everything. The challenges facing the Neanderthals — finding food, returning home, getting across the river when the log they normally use goes missing — are amplified because they are not alone. Encroaching on their territory is a group of “new people,” Homo sapiens we presume. . . . There is great pathos here, as the mother of all dramatic ironies is upon us: the hopelessness of the Neanderthals’ struggles for survival in the face of the Homo sapiens, with their better tools, better communication and better planning; their habit of playing, a consequence of “leisure [and] incessant wakefulness.” Occasionally, one of the Neanderthals will strain toward an understanding of how to develop skills they don’t have — to gather more food than they need; to hold water in a shell — but it slips agonizingly away. In a sense, to review The Inheritors as a “normal” book does it a disservice. Its strength is in how it renders a world without thought as we understand it, and becomes a complete and convincing world.