Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel

The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first book in the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel.

Summary (from back of book)

The first novel in Jean M. Auel’s magnificent epic of life on the glacial continent of the last Ice Age, when two kinds of human beings, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, shared the earth.

Its heroine is Ayla, a courageous and indomitable young woman whose story beings when she is a five-year-old orphan adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthal.

Ayla inspires first surprise, then wariness and finally acceptance by the Clan.  She is cared for by its medicine woman Iza and its wise holy man Creb.  But she makes an implacable enemy of the group’s future leader. Broud does all he can to destroy her, but Ayla is a survivor.

Favourite Quote

“Accept her into the clan!  She’s not Clan, she was born to the Others.  Who said anything about accepting her into the clan?  It wouldn’t be allowed, Ursus won’t like it.  It’s never been done before!” Brun objected.  “I wasn’t thinking of making her one of us, I only wondered if the spirits would allow her to live with us until she gets older.”

“Iza saved her life, Brun, she carries part of the girl’s spirit now, that makes her part Clan.  She came close to walking in the next world, but she’s alive now.  That’s almost the same as being born again, born to the Clan.”

Review

I absolutely adore this series, and The Clan of the Cave Bear as the first book in it is simply magnificent.  I have read this book (and the subsequent instalments) so many times, and as soon as I open the covers I am transported back in time to the last ice age.  I find this period in time fascinating, and the amount of research that was carried out in order to make it as accurate as one can so many millennia later, is clear as soon as you begin reading.  From descriptions of the landscape and the processes involved in their evolution, to plants and their medicinal properties, this book is rich in, and overflowing with, information and detail.

The characters were engaging, and Ayla’s adopted family – Iza, the clan’s medicine woman, and her brother, Creb, the mog-ur or spiritual leader of the group – were wonderful, and are my favourite characters after Ayla herself. Brun, as the strong but fair leader who often finds himself torn between tradition (which to the Clan means security) and something new (which they fear), deals compassionately with the problems Ayla’s presence gives rise to.

This story is packed full of emotional drama that left me in tears on more than one occasion.  The storyline was captivating, and though you can work out how the book is going to end, it still comes as a bit of shock and is highly emotional.  Ayla is a strong young woman with a desire to learn anything and everything, so that she is always growing and developing, and it is this, rather than the fact that she looks different that sets her apart from those around her.

The Clan of the Cave Bear is imaginative and unique, and the storytelling abilities of the author are amazing.  We get to hear the story from the viewpoint of all the characters without it getting confusing, but we are also not in any doubt that the story is that of Ayla, a young orphaned girl taken in, raised and loved by a group of Neanderthals.

This book is one of my all-time favourite reads.  I would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction and are interested in the Palaeolithic. However, if you struggle reading great swathes of detailed description, this might not be the book for you.  Also, it is worth remembering that although Auel extensively researched the book, it is ultimately a work of fiction not a science text book.

Rating

 

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel

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  4. I haven’t read the book, but it gets great reviews. The story and characters sound really compelling I’m a little bothered by the descriptions I’ve read, though, that seem to paint Neanderthals as so much more cognitively behind Cro-Magnons, as though proto-humans were some sort of super creatures destined to take over. Maybe the author wasn’t familiar with the scientific research that shows how advanced Neanderthals were, and suggests that it might have been Neanderthals who taught early humans how to use tools, instead of vice versa. I worry that these books give people the wrong idea: people tend to believe stories over boring facts. This is one aspect where I prefer speculative fiction over historical fiction, especially for periods that require a lot of guessing: readers are less likely to be misled about actual history or science from reading stories set on other planets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read reviews that make those points too. The book is out of sync with recent scientific research. This particular book was first published in 1980 (my! it’s older than I am lol), so the “science” in it is nearly forty years out of date, meaning that there is a tremendous gulf between what we know today.

      And I must say, that I’ve personally never picked up on this depiction that some others have from the story, but then, these books were not my first introduction to the era, having studied it at university. In the books they make tools, can communicate effectively, possess medicine, have artwork, at least in terms of decorated practical objects…But yes, I too would hate to think people are reading these works of fiction and imagination as a type of scientific textbook, even if there is some valuable information in it, because at the end of the day, it’s only a story.

      I prefer fantasy worlds myself – you make the rules and that’s the way it is. Even after hundreds of years, and leaps in scientific understanding, no one will ever be able to say you were wrong 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s another good point — writing fantasy means never having to say you were wrong, ha ha! Well, at least about science; you can still be internally inconsistent.

        I’ve heard people argue that it doesn’t matter if movies and books are historically or scientifically accurate, because people “understand” that they are fictional. But they don’t, really: when all these other aspects of the story ring true, that historically inaccurate part will also be perceived as true. So if you’re watching a show about a real person, and they include all these things you know that person did, but also portray him as beating his wife or cheating on her, you assume that part’s true too. Plus there is a phenomenon psychologists call source confusion, where over time, people forget where they learned something, and they end up blurring together things they read or saw in fictional works (even if they recognized them as made-up at the time) with true news or history. Our memories are just not that good, sad to say! .

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      • I would *like* to think it doesn’t matter if books are accurate – it makes me feel better about my own writing, especially when writing a story set in the past. But then, to counter the worry of it not being accurate, I research and research and research some more, but I’ll still worry that there’s an important source or fact or detail I’ve missed.

        That is true – our memories can’t be trusted. The question is, where does an author’s responsibility lie: with the story they are telling, ensuring they are making it as entertaining and gripping as they can, or in making it factually accurate, even if they’re not considered an expert in the subject? I do wonder…

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think that as long as you’re not making extraordinary claims about real people or real historical events, it’s fine to make up reasonable details to make the setting and actions believable. And of course you have to make up tons of details, for any story. I would say the author’s primary responsibility is to telling the story, not to conveying accurate history; however, I’d hope they would also take pains to avoid teaching *inaccurate* history in the process. And as you say, doing tons of research is your best bet, there.

        Liked by 1 person

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