Jean M. Auel - The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children #1) - Jean M. Auel

Ms Auel, there are some things I’d like to talk to you about. Be warned I’m quite angry because I keep reading your books for some bizarre reason and I cringe and tear my hair out in despair. See, you had a good story there – a little Cro-Magnon orphan girl found and raised by Neanderthals. I didn’t even care she turned out to be the smartest, most beautiful, ingenious little thing and the villain in the story was almost grotesque and cartoonish in his evildoing. I knew no real harm would ever come Ayla’s way, she would survive it all and meanwhile invent an iPhone. It’s all ok, it’s comfort reading after all. It’s the writing I had many different problems with.

First of all – point of view.

"The plentiful supply of drinking water kept dehydration from making its dangerous contribution to hypothermia, the lowering of body temperature that brought death from exposure, but she was getting weak."

I’m sorry, what? It’s 35000 BC, I don’t want to hear things like ‘hypothermia’ or ‘diuretic’ or ‘evolution’. I didn’t need that foreshadowing of the 20th century. I wanted a story as seen through the eyes of prehistorical people and I’d seriously take anything the author threw my way, there would be no limits to my suspension of disbelief. But since I had that constant running commentary that sounded like something from a BBC documentary I was forced to get out the story and look at it from a dispassionate, modern point of view, which inevitably led me to the conclusion that half of it was unbelievable bollocks.

"All those primitive people, with almost no frontal lobes, and speech limited by undeveloped vocal organs, but with huge brains—larger than any race of man then living or future generations yet unborn—were unique. They were the culmination of a branch of mankind whose brain was developed in the back of their heads, in the occipital and the parietal regions that control vision and bodily sensation and store memory."

No! You can’t put paragraphs like that in a STORY! Did you copy it from an encyclopedia? You're confusing research with copy-pasting.

The narrative finally jumped the shark when it implied that Neanderthal women were scared of learning new things because with their hereditary memory (yeah, me neither) their children would keep having larger and larger heads which eventually would lead to more difficult births and higher infant and mother mortality rate, ergo decline of the race and evolutionary cul-de-sac. No, I’m serious.

And here is why Broud (the villain) hates Ayla:

"but the real problem was she was not Clan. […] Her brain followed different paths, her full, high forehead that housed forward-thinking frontal lobes gave her an understanding from a different view."

Yes. He hated her because of her forward-thinking frontal lobes.

But when Auel gives the voice to Ayla, her stream of conscience is even worse than the droning of the main narrator. It’s like listening to someone on amphetamines.

"I’ll dig some roots on the way back. Iza says the roots are good for Creb’s rheumatism, too. I hope the fresh cherry bark will help Iza’s cough. She’s getting better, I think, but she’s so skinny. Uba’s getting so big and heavy, Iza shouldn’t lift her at all. Maybe I’ll bring Uba with me next time, if I can. I’m so glad we didn’t have to give her to Oga. She’s really starting to talk now. It’ll be fun when she gets a little bigger and we can go out together. Look at those pussy willows. Funny how they feel like real fur when they’re small like that, but they grow out green. The sky is so blue today. I can smell the sea in the wind. I wonder when we’ll be going fishing. The water should be warm enough to swim in soon. I wonder why no one else likes to swim? The sea tastes salty, not like the stream, but I feel so light in it. I can hardly wait until we go fishing. I think I love sea fish best of all, but I like eggs, too."

Second – repetitions. For god’s sake. I know we homo sapiens sapiens don’t have as good memory as Neanderthals but I’m pretty sure your average human doesn’t need to have a piece of information repeated every five pages. This book could easily be 150 pages without losing anything. A perfect candidate for Reader’s Digest’s condesations.

Another problem – showing… and then telling. Because we all readers are completely dumb and we don’t get it.

"I see you and Dorv put your slings to good use. I could smell the meat cooking halfway up the hill,” Brun continued. “When we get settled in the new cave, we’ll have to find a place to practice. The clan would benefit if all the hunters had your skill with the sling, Zoug. And it won’t be long before Vorn will need to be trained.” The leader was aware of the contribution the older men still made to the sustenance of the clan and wanted them to know it.”

Why was that last sentence needed? This is exactly what the dialogue implied! Ms. Auel, are you disrespecting me?

We know that Ayla doesn’t remember ever seeing any humans that look like her, only Neanderthals, so it’s obvious she would have body image problems, feel ugly, big, deformed. It’s implied many times but just in case we don’t understand why a tall, slim, blue-eyed blond girl might feel ugly, Auel explains, repeatedly:

"For as long as she could remember, Ayla had never seen anyone except people of the clan. She had
no other standard of measure. They had grown accustomed to her, but to herself, she looked different from everyone around her, abnormally different."

On top of that all sort of other random nonsense.

"She simply hadn’t been able to grasp the concept of talking with movement. That it was even possible had never occurred to her; it was totally beyond her realm of experience."

Really? She invents pretty much anything and understand calculus but has never seen anyone gesticulate? That’s almost second nature to every human. If you meet someone who speaks a different language and you try to communicate with them, you almost automatically resort to gestures, so don’t even give me that bullshit.

Yet another problem was that Auel obviously confused description with enumerations. It’s not that there were too many descriptions in this book; it’s that they were all boring. She even managed to make those little Neanderthal Olympic Games sound boring. I’d love for someone to pay me to rewrite this whole thing.

And there were NO sexy scenes in this volume!

I am almost ashamed to admit that I also read book two, and it was only around page 30 of the book three that I managed to snap out of it and decided I just couldn’t do it any longer. It was like crack, it was ruining my life.