Historical Fiction

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The first book I read about anthropology and archaeology was Lucy’s Child. It was a fascinating novel that made me rethink my future goals. After discovering my interest in this field, my school librarian suggested I read Clan of the Cave Bears by Jean M. Auel. To this day, it is my favorite book. So it should come as no surprise that when I heard about this book and its subject matter, I knew I had to read it. Here is my review:

40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. It has been a hard winter, and with numbers low, the family knows it is imperative that they travel to the annual meeting place; Girl, the oldest daughter, and Him, the oldest son, must each find a mate. But there is danger everywhere, and Girl finds herself left alone to care for Runt, a foundling that her family adopted. As they face the coming winter, Girl realizes that there is only one way for her to save her people.

In the modern day, Dr. Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy on her archaeological dig, racing to excavate the newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her due date. Linked through the shared experience of motherhood, both Girl and Rose reveal the taboo corners of women’s lives through their narratives.

Let me just make it clear: there is no real suspense in this novel. That isn’t to say this novel isn’t engrossing – it is. But the blurb for this novel basically gives away 50% of what happens in the story. However, this doesn’t in any way diminish the story’s compelling voice. My favorite narrative was that of Girl, for obvious reasons. Neanderthals have long been thought to be primitive and less developed compared to us, and having this author (and Gale) show us otherwise was just fascinating. I think the true magic in this story is how real the Neanderthal narrative was; you could feel the emotions, and their experiences came alive on the page. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected to Neanderthals – and they’re part of our genetic makeup. No, but with all seriousness, the author did a fantastic job in her portrayal of the Neanderthal family and Girl’s struggles to survive. My problem was with the modern day portrayal. I didn’t really care for Dr. Gale; I found her petty and weird and just … not that personable. Her narrative didn’t really do anything for me and it really didn’t do much for the story, either. Since Gale’s narrative makes up half of the story, it made me only like part of the story, which is why I’m giving this novel a 3/5 stars.

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