Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first book in Auel’s prehistoric epic is, at times, slow with plenty of exposition about the Ice Age world, Neanderthal clan life and traditions, and character backstory. But all of it ends up being important to the story as Ayla strives to belong and to make a place for herself within the clan that has adopted her.
At its best moments, the story is an absorbing adventure tale that piqued my interest in the Paleolithic Era and human evolution. I particularly enjoyed the allusions to the Ice Age fauna. I’ve always been intensely interested in the mega-fauna of the period.
While all of this is thrilling, it is the novel’s feminist themes –

Men believed that a woman’s smaller, weaker physical form that allowed them to dominate her was a compensating balance and that no woman must ever be allowed to realize her full potential.

– and its exploration of humankind’s divergent evolution (or lack thereof) that really stuck with me. Throughout I wondered how much of the descriptions of clan life found in the pages came from intense research and how much was the author’s imagination. I mean, how can we possibly know their traditions, religious beliefs and rituals, and how they interacted with each other within the clan? Do we actually have fossil evidence of many of these details? I’m anxious to read the rest of the series but I hope the subsequent novels move a bit more quickly.

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