Monday, December 17, 2012

Backlist Book Club review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

The backstory: The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first in Jean M. Auel's Earth Children series, is the December pick for The Backlist Book Club.

The basics: The Clan of the Cave Bear is the story of Ayla, a young Cro-Magnan girl orphaned when the rest of her tribe dies in an earthquake. As she wanders in search of something, she encounters The Clan, who take her in even though she is so different from them.

My thoughts: (Note: this review contains some plot spoilers.) The set-up of this novel is fascinating. As I began reading, this prehistory is so different from anything I've ever read, it almost seemed dystopian, particularly in the sense of world building. Auel had the challenging task of making her reader understand life then. At times, this education slowed the narrative, but in the early pages, I was riveted.

As the novel moved on, however, I grew quite irritated with it. For one, the use of foreshadowing killed any narrative suspense or curiosity. Each event was telegraphed in a way that made me bored when things finally happened. Most egregiously: the novel opens with a list of the six main characters. The last character listed,Durc, is described as "born of a violent rape, belonging to neither one nor the other, he is the future of the Clan." It was clear from page one Durc will be Ayla's child. It is also soon clear which young man despises Ayla. This foreshadowing I found to be deeply disturbing.

While I appreciate Auel sticking to historical accuracy regarding gender roles, it was hard to read about the behavior of cave men and women. It was frustrating as a reader to see them not understand the world. I don't fault the characters or Auel for this, necessarily, but as a reader I find it dull to know so much more than the characters, particularly when I could not identify with any of them. It was difficult even to root for Ayla knowing she was destined for violent rape.

The verdict: Despite a promising concept, I failed to connect with any of the characters in The Clan of the Cave Bear and quickly grew frustrated with the frequent foreshadowing and lack of surprise.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Length: 512 pages
Publication date: May 4, 1980
Source: purchased

There's still time: join in! On Monday, December 31, I'll be hosting a discussion of The Clan of the Cave Bear. Grab a copy and join me! Despite not loving this book, I do still love the idea of it and am really looking forward to discussing it on December 31.

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Clan of the Cave Bear from  an independent bookstore, the Book Depository, or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

12 comments:

  1. Oh no! I loved this book and found the interactions between the two different types of people fascinating. I admit that it sometimes lacked subtlety, but I formed a deep bond with Ayla and loved discovering what would happen to her. Sorry you didn't enjoy it as much as I did, but I look forward to reading your discussion.

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    1. Jackie, I think forming a bond with Ayla is key in this novel, and I never quite did. Without that investment, it came to be redundant and telegraphed for me. There have certainly been many books I've forgiven for those faults when I loved the characters. I'm looking forward to the discussion too--eve though I didn't like the book, there is much to discuss!

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  2. Oh no! I hadn't heard of this but happened to see it at Barnes and Noble one day and was wondering how it was. How disappointing. :(

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    1. Don't let me dissuade you from reading this one. The premise is fascinating and many, many people love it. As much as I didn't like it, I am glad I read it. It's part of our cultural lexicon in many ways, and I am fascinated by times long, long, long ago.

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  3. I like the idea of a Backlist Bookclub. I haven't read this book and no time to jump in this month, but maybe one of the future picks.

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    1. Thanks, Leslie! I read so many frontlist titles, but I'm enjoying highlighting an older title from my TBR each month. I hope you'll join in when the title strikes your fancy.

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  4. Ack! I don't think this is the book for me. Too bad it didn't work out for you.

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    1. Thanks, Vasilly. It wasn't for me either, but I'm not sorry I picked it and am still looking forward to the discussion!

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  5. I agree with you. I also felt the book was repetitive and over long. I read it about six months ago and haven't picked up the sequel!

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    1. Sam, I'm glad to have some company! I'm curious enough to read the spoilers from the next novels, but even those who like the series have said the writing gets worse as the series goes on, so I think I'll stop where I am:-)

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  6. A friend raved about the audio version of this book, but from what you wrote, I don't think it is for me. Thanks for the honest review.

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    1. Thanks, Diane. Many people love this one, but it just didn't work for me.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!