The Inheritors by William Golding

The inheritorsMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

A last tribe of Neanderthals (the People) arrive in their Summer home – a rocky outcrop near the top of a large waterfall. Peaceful hunter gatherers with an earth-mother religion, they do not understand tools, nor can they formulate complex thoughts, they speak simply and also they communicate telepathically through pictures. One day they smell strangers nearby and gradually the become aware of a tribe of Homo Sapiens (the new people) who have come up the river in dug out canoes and are camping on a river island. The new people steal the Neanderthal children and kill the tribe elders, only Lok and Fa, a man and woman, are left, and they set out to rescue the children.

Despite being written in simple language this is quite a difficult book to read. This is because WIlliam Golding has chosen to tell the story in style that suggest a Neanderthal mindset. Though it’s written in the third person the narration is skewed to suggest the protagonist – Lok’s – view. As he spies on the homo sapiens a lot of their behaviour is alien to him. He also has a strange way of describing everything — from the geography of places to interactions between characters — there is sometimes no distinction in his observations between the real and unreal and this gives the story a dream like quality that is often hard to follow.

The Neanderthals in the book are verging on that cliché of the simple, peaceful tribal people who, once again, represent humans before the fall, before consciousness. Where as the homo sapiens are more badly behaved, drinking, killing, beating etc. Stylistically it is an interesting device to use the writing to suggest the Neanderthal mind, I think it works really well but throws up lots of issues. At two points the narration jarred for me, when Lok used the words: ‘make love’, which sounded too twentieth century and also at another point when Golding stepped away from Lok’s view to give an authorial comment, and I can’t remember why, otherwise the style works really well. One of the other strange side effect though was that at the end when the narration switches to a Homo sapiens man’s view, he is suddenly starling sophisticated by comparison in the way he formulates ideas. The distinction works well but also makes the Homo sapiens feel very advanced.

The book’s introduction suggests that Neanderthals didn’t have language, which makes sense, language is what separates us from other animals, it is the start of abstract thought and duality – separating and portioning everything out and printed words suggest that so strongly too, so maybe it would be impossible to use written language to create a Neanderthal view of the world, but Golding has given it a damn good try!

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Black Jack by Leon Garfield

Black-JackMy rating: 3 of 5 stars

1750 and Tolly Dorking is set to look after the coffin of a hanged man – Black Jack. But Black Jack has cheated the hangman’s noose with a length of pipe and when he awakens he drags Tolly off to help him find an apothecary. Thus begins their adventure. They meet Belle a mad girl, who is lost in the woods and all three join up with a band of gypsy caravans as they try to discover where Belle is from.

I recently saw the Ken Loach film of this children’s novel. I loved it and so wanted to read the book and see how that compared. The plotting in the book is definitely better, things that were unexplained in the film now make sense. I think the child leads come to life a little more in the film, but maybe that’s because I saw it first. The writing is quite sophisticated for a children’s story and sometimes I found the prose style a little dry, but there’s no denying it is very well written. Leon Garfield’s character descriptions and his eye for detail are amazing. I particularly liked the description of Hatch arriving at the lunatic asylum –

“a foul filthy face was pressed against the glass. Then, seeing itself observed, the semblance of a grin appeared, and its sharp, sharp eyes glittered like Judas windows in what seemed to be a mansion of mud.”

I found the love story between Tolly and Belle a little flat, even as a chaste first love there could have been more interaction between them. But despite this it was an enjoyable read full of great characters.

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