Title: The Clan of the Cave Bear
Author: Jean M. Auel
Genre: Historical Fiction
Edition/Pages: First Edition (1980)/495 pages
Short & Sweet Synopsis: A Cro-Magnon girl must learn to live in the world of Neanderthals in pre-historic, Ice Age Europe.
*Note: Although I have tried to post this review with minimal spoilers, by necessity there are a few descriptions of events that occur in the story. Without them, I couldn’t have reviewed the entire book (it’s really long!).
So. I first picked a 1980 copy of this book up off of my grandfather’s bookshelf several years ago, and have not read the book again since. However, I am finally coming back to the series after an extended absence, re-reading the third book, and am wanting to do an in-depth review on it and the final three books in the series. Since they build on each other, I figured I’d better write at least a brief review on each of the other books in the series first. After reading some recaps and skimming through the book to refresh my memory of the writing style, I think I am ready to proceed. Here goes:
Neanderthals out, Cro-Magnons in
The Earth’s Children series, of which Clan of the Cave Bear is the first book, takes place in Europe circa 28,000 BC, during the last stages of Neanderthal society. The epic story focuses on Ayla, a Cro-Magnon (A.K.A closer to modern human) girl who is orphaned by natural disaster, attacked by a cave lion, and has generally little chance of survival until she is discovered by the neanderthal members of the Clan, who were displaced from their home by the same natural disaster that left her family dead. Despite early mistrust, the Clan start to consider Ayla a lucky charm of sorts, although she cannot seem to fit in with the other neanderthals. The neanderthals of Auel’s story use very little vocal communication; they do not understand Ayla’s (relatively) strong emotions, and often think they are some form of disease to be cured. Exacerbating the problem is Ayla’s strong-willed personality, and her refusal to live by Clan rules (e.g., becoming extremely proficient with a slingshot).
Although the Clan as a whole has considered Ayla to be lucky, she finds herself out of favor with one Clan member in particular, Broud, due to all of the attention that she is receiving. As the mutual hatred between the two grows, a violent act occurs, and this is where the most important part of our story begins. As the animosity between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon grow, what will happen to Ayla, one of the first of a new species of human?
About the Writing
One of the most fascinating things about this book is the fact that everything Auel writes about pre-historic society comes across as extremely fact-based. Of course, I’m no expert in the subject matter myself, but from what I’ve read, it is indeed fairly accurate. That always makes a book better…well, almost always. More on that in another review. The reason that the accuracy is so important is the foundation that it creates for her to build her world upon, and she does it wonderfully. It is a vibrant, colorful world that is exceedingly easy to imagine, which is a great gift – particularly in a story so long as this one. A warning to those considering reading this series: there are some explicit sexual scenes in the text, so if that bothers you, perhaps this series isn’t one you should read. However, if you can handle those relatively minimal scenes, then I would highly recommend this book and series both. If you’re interested in the series, look for my next review on The Valley of Horses, coming next week!
Some other reviews that you might enjoy reading:
The Slowest Bookworm: Jean M. Auel does a lot of scene setting, but it’s interesting and beautifully written. I really enjoyed learning about how the land looked in the days of the cavemen, the plants, trees and animals that existed then. How the plants and shrubs were used for food and medicines and even as recreational drugs. It was like reading a novel and watching a very interesting documentary at the same time. I don’t know how much of it is factual, but it all seems totally believable, possible and makes sense.
thebookaddictblog: It is amazing how much detail is in the book regarding the life of the Clan and how all forms of life lived on earth at that time. There is so many descriptions of anything you may need to understand, yet it never feels like a history lesson. The story is full of heart and suspense and even though the book has many pages, you can’t help but eat them all up.