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
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!