The 19th of September being the 100th anniversary of novelist William Golding’s birth, I thought I’d mark it with a review of The Inheritors,
.This moving and disturbing book was his personal favourite of all his novels, written with memories of the Second World War still fresh in his mind and imagination fired by the recent public exposure to the Lascaux prehistoric cave paintings. (Coincidentally, the 71st anniversary of the discovery of the Lascaux Paleolithic
paintings was celebrated on the 12th of September.) The shaman stag/man figure on the cover of the first edition of The Inheritors
comes from the Trois-Frères
cave system, also in in France, and is significant to the story.
Golding was profoundly affected by his wartime experiences (he served in the Royal Navy and took part in the Normandy D-Day invasion). He later said, “Before the Second World War I believed in the perfectibility of social man; that a correct structure of society would produce goodwill... but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another... I must say that anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey must have been blind or wrong in the head.”
Like many other authors, Golding uses a historical setting to draw parallels to his own time, emphasizing the universality of the human condition. Given that we have also just marked the 10th anniversary of 9/11, The Inheritors
seems particularly apposite – its theme is the “line of darkness” which is modern man’s inheritance; our ability to perpetuate horrors upon our fellow man and mistreat the world we live in seen as the price of evolutionary progress.
Stylistically brilliant, (his use of linguistic skills to recreate a Neanderthal consciousness is remarkable), it’s typical Golding; contentious, deceptively simple but multilayered, and open to as many interpretations as there are readers.