The first of a six-part series, The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, is considered a classic by many. Set in the Ice Age, roughly 30,000 years ago, it is the story of a young Cro-Magnon girl, Ayla, that is adopted into a Neanderthal clan when her own people perish in an earthquake. This is Ayla’s struggle and her story, as she tries to fit in with her new clan. Physically and intellectually more advanced than her new Neanderthal family, she presents both a challenge to the ancient traditions that keep them alive, and their only hope for the future.
Why do we love this story?
1.) It’s heroine: Ayla is strong-willed, smart, and compassionate. We watch Ayla as she struggles to adapt to strange, new customs. With a strong survivalist instinct, she teaches herself to hunt (an activity forbidden by clan women); refuses to be subservient to men (unlike her female counterparts); and in multiple cases, risks her own life to save clan members. Go Ayla Go!
2.) Beautiful imagery: Auel’s extensive research allows her to create the clan culture and transports the reader into a new reality. It is easy to get caught up in the descriptions of the landscape, the customs, the lifestyle. Even if it is speculative, it is convincing.
3.) Dystopian Angst: I equate this to an Ice-Age version of the ever-popular, The Hunger Games. A young girl’s resilience to an authoritarian, male society. The only difference is that this is not a futuristic society, but a now defunct society . Regardless, Ayla fiercely challenges authority and gender roles as well as Katniss Everdeen. Ayla not only does everything the clan men do, she usually does it better.
4.) Investment: With well-paced conflict, suspense and strong characters, it is easy to get invested into the story. Even if somewhat predictable at times, you want to keep reading.
Why we may struggle with this story?
1.) Predictable: As stated above, many of the sequences are predictable. I knew the ending within the first few chapters. Buzz kill.
2.) Naming Convention: Oh shoot me. Does every female name have to begin with an O? And because the Neanderthals had limited language/vocal skills, all the names have a grunt sound to them. At times, I found it confusing to keep the characters straight.
3.) It’s Antagonist: Broud is Ayla’s nemesis and the antagonist we all despise. I cringed every time he came into a scene. He is a despicable brute.
4.) Detail: While Auel’s research and descriptions help the reader transport into a new reality, it makes for a challenging start. You have to be committed on this one. It takes a bit longer to get sucked in than some will be able to tolerate.
Whether you read just the first one or decide to tackle all six in the series, take time to get absorbed into landscape and culture of the Ice Age. It is one you don’t get a chance to read about very often.
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