Thursday, 28 June 2012
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
Ayla is a young girl orphaned by an earthquake in prehistoric times. Only five and left to wander helplessly looking for food and water, she is attacked by a cave lion before chancing upon a group of Neanderthal. Taken in by the medicine woman, Iza, and the holy man, Creb, Ayla is bought up as a Neanderthal, as one of the Clan. But despite her best efforts she is different and finds it hard to conform to all of their customs and rituals. The leader, Brun, is accepting and lenient, but the future leader Broud, develops a deep resentment towards Ayla. As she comes of age her differences become more apparent and tensions appear in the Clan. As they prepare for a Clan gathering with other groups of Neanderthals, things build to a head for Ayla and her adopted family.
I was ambivalent about The Clan of the Cave Bear. I found it to have a very slow start and it took me a good hundred pages or so out of five hundred to actually get involved with the story. It was hard to connect with Ayla properly until she was a bit older, but once I had connected with her I started enjoying the book a lot more as I did want to find out what would happen to her. The first time she got into trouble with the Clan, I was gripped, but as the book went on the structure became a bit repetitive. It basically went like this: Ayla breaks a Clan custom because she is different, Broud wants her to have a death curse, the men have extended deliberations, Brun finally decides to accept Ayla back. This happens two or three times and so the tension was lost; Ayla didn't seem to be in any danger of being cut off from the Clan whilst Brun was in charge.
I admire the world building in The Clan of the Cave Bear. The prehistoric times are bought back to life vividly and it's easy to tell that Auel has thought about every aspect of Clan life and ritual before writing. The slow pace meant that this world could be fully introduced and also that there was time for all the characters to shine and be developed, not just Ayla. I was fond of the leader, Brun, and the calm, logical approach he took to the people he was responsible for. Even the villain of the piece, Broud, is a balanced character and Auel takes the time to explain his motivation for acting in the way he does towards Ayla.
In fact, my main issue with The Clan of the Cave Bear was how long it took for me to read it - almost two weeks. This is unheard of for me, even if I did choose to read it during a busy time at work. To put it into perspective - I read Anna Karenina faster than I did this! And even more so than the time it took, Cave Bear felt like an effort to read and get through. There was so much background information that it became dense and at points it took me days to get through a single chapter. I wanted to finish it because of the characters and world building, but it was hard work and a book like this shouldn't be. So whilst there was a cliffhanger ending and I am interested to see what Ayla will do next, I'll hold off reading Valley of the Horses for a while yet.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1980
Score: 3 out of 5
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I've wanted to read this one for some time now, but I'm not a fan of repetitive story lines. Not sure how much I'd like this one. Great review!ReplyDelete
Lots of people have enjoyed it more than I did Brooke, so don't take my word for it.Delete
I read this many, many years ago. I found it fascinating and read the whole series back then, but it was really the world-building that drew me in. I loved the idea of the prehistoric way of life. That said- when the new book finally came out a couple years ago, I bought it and couldn't get into it. I don't know whether it's that I don't have the time/patience anymore, or if it was just too long a wait and I'd lost interest.ReplyDelete
Susan, the world-building was what I liked about this book too. I can't see me finishing the whole series but I will probably read the next few books at some point.Delete
I recently starting reading this book and encountered many of the same things. It's taking me such a long time to get into the story and it's moving so slowly. I feel like I read and read but never make any progress through the book. So I've put it on hold for now and am not sure if I'll be picking it up again. Like you said, the research is so thorough and the world-building is great, but that might not be enough for me. At least you finally finished it!ReplyDelete
Jae, I'm glad to find someone who shares my opinion, although not glad that you haven't enjoyed the book as much as you hoped. All I can say is that the pace does pick up towards the end.Delete
I didn't read this review. I had forgotten of the existence of this book and I remember having a burning desire to read it way back when. Thanks for reminding me. I am placing this bookmark here so that when I do finish it I'll come back and write an actual comment about your (most assuredly excellent) review.ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it Ryan!Delete
Look forward to your thoughts once you've read it.
Hmm...I feel as if this is one of those books everyone has heard about, but not too many people have read. I don't feel the need to run out and find it now.ReplyDelete
Speak is going to be a big departure from this book! I want to say that I hope you enjoy it, but I don't think it's quite the right word for that one.
That's true, I know I was aware of this book for years before finally taking it off my shelf and reading it.Delete
I finished up Speak this morning. I knew what had happened to Melinda before I started it, which I think might have ruined it a bit.
I've wanted to read this forever, but have been intimidated by it size. Now that I'm reading the 1,100 page book: the Stand, King, its more of a possibility:)ReplyDelete
Diane, if you can read The Stand, you can read this! :PDelete
I haven't read the book, but I did watch the movie. I'm not sure if I ever really thought about reading the books though.ReplyDelete
I didn't even know there was a movie! Is it worth watching?Delete
I think I'd have a similar reaction to this one. Each book is so long, and the series itself is SO long and I don't know how I feel about the whole cross-species (I think?) romance aspect of it, which seems a bit off to me...ReplyDelete
The cross-species romance is there, but it's not really a romance. Although there is much dubious in the science parts of the book, I do remember reading in Nat Geo once that this did actually happen, but that offspring usually didn't survive. Could be wrong though, I read about it a long time ago!Delete
Ugh. I received this as a present and tried to read it for two years, starting an attempt every few months until I finally gave up and gave it away as a birthday present myself. As you say, it is incredibly slow paced and I also don't care too much for any historic fiction set before the 1500s. Additionally I hate such long series and only read them if they are exceptionally good, which is unfortunately not the case here.ReplyDelete
Sorry you didn't enjoy it, but I'm glad someone shares my opinion that it's a difficult book to get into. I don't think I will read the whole series but there was a massive cliffhanger so I probably will pick up Valley of the Horses at some point.Delete
I read this a while ago - and while I was gripped by the story, I remember skipping long passages in between. There are a few sequels to this, though. Would you consider reading them as well? ;-)ReplyDelete
Yes, there are long in-between passages. I liked the ones about medicine/healing, but there were too many descriptions of the environments. As there was such a cliffhanger at the end, I probably will read Valley of the Horses but can't see myself finishing the whole series.Delete
I was working in an indie bookstore when this one was first published. It flew off the shelves as did the others in this series. I was never interested in them then and only wondered about reading them when I heard about the movie being made.ReplyDelete
Great review. This is one of my favorite series and it does grow on you slowly... Hope you read the next one soon!ReplyDelete
Compellingly written, descriptive and beautifully set this book will not allow you to put it down and the wait for the next in the series will seem like an eternity.ReplyDelete
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