THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR by Jean M. Auel
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Released: First published 1980
Review Format: Paperback Edition (with thanks to Kate at Holler & Hodder & Stoughton) and also the Kindle Edition bought by myself
Page Count: 502
When her parents are killed by an earthquake, 5-year-old Ayla wanders through the forest completely alone. Cold, hungry, and badly injured by a cave lion, the little girl is as good as gone until she is discovered by a group who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear. This clan, left homeless by the same disaster, have little interest in the helpless girl who comes from the tribe they refer to as the "Others." Only their medicine woman sees in Ayla a fellow human, worthy of care. She painstakingly nurses her back to health--a decision that will forever alter the physical and emotional structure of the clan.
Although this story takes place roughly 35,000 years ago, its cast of characters could easily slide into any modern tale. The members of the Neanderthal clan, ruled by traditions and taboos, find themselves challenged by this outsider, who represents the physically modern Cro-Magnons. And as Ayla begins to grow and mature, her natural tendencies emerge, putting her in the middle of a brutal and dangerous power struggle. Although Jean Auel obviously takes certain liberties with the actions and motivations of all our ancestors, her extensive research into the Ice Age does shine through--especially in the detailed knowledge of plants and natural remedies used by the medicine woman and passed down to Ayla. Mostly, though, this first in the series of four is a wonderful story of survival. Ayla's personal evolution is a compelling and relevant tale.
Synopsis from Goodreads
When I was asked to review this book, I read the synopsis and a few reviews on Goodreads and thought that it sounded really good. I was looking forward to it turning up at my door, but when it did and I saw the size of the print and how much text was squeezed onto each of those 502 pages, I was immediately intimidated. I checked out when I needed to review it by, saw I had a couple of months and put it on my bookshelf.
Since then I’ve picked it up a fair few times and put it back down again after reading a few pages. I was struggling and as the time for the review got closer, I realised that I really only had two options - I either contact Kate at Holler, the publicity agents who sent me the book and tell her I won’t be able to review it, or I splash out a few pounds and buy the Kindle version.
So … I bought the Kindle version, snuggled down and immersed myself deep into the world of Ayla and her clan of cave people. Whoa, hold on a minute. This book that I was struggling to read has turned into the most powerful, beautiful, amazing story I have ever read!
I am totally in love with these characters. They are amazing. Iza, the medicine woman and also Ayla’s adoptive mother. Creb, the spiritualist/magic man or Mog-ur as they were called then. Ayla, the strange looking girl with the blonde hair and blue eyes – one of ‘The Others’ - found by Iza at deaths door and adopted into the clan. The characters in this book don’t just come to life, they take you back with them to their time. You watch as Iza grinds roots to make medicinal teas or poultices to dress burns or wounds. You see old and crippled Creb hobbling off into his private section of the cave to talk to the totems and spirits to ask their advice. Brun, Broud and the other clan men will take you hunting Mammoth and you will watch as Ayla tries to overcome the differences in her body, her language and her instinct and learn the ways of The Clan.
These cave people with no foreheads but massive brains at the back of their heads to allow the storage of memories, and not just their own memories with large overhanging brow ridges were adults at the age of 8 or 9 and able to mate and have children of their own. By their mid 20’s they were very old and probably not long for this world. Ayla was different. She was what the Clan spoke about as ‘the Others’ and from the description I think Ayla must have looked a lot like we do today.
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.
This book does contain scenes of ‘mating’ and violence, but these things were ‘the norm’ in the days of The Clan and although this is an adult book I don’t think that I would stop a younger adult reading it because of those scenes.
I would definitely recommend that you read this book. It will be loved by young and old alike. If you, like me, shy away from larger books or books with tiny print, I do suggest you opt for the e-book version instead. It really made a big difference to me. I have already bought and downloaded the second in the series, The Valley of Horses and am looking forward to reading it (as soon as I’ve got a few reviews scheduled, so I can relax with it for a week or ten days without feeling rushed to get a review up as quickly as possible). The last book in the series, The Land of Painted Caves is out on 29th March.
My rating: 5 stars