I took The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel away with me to Wales, in the optimistic hope that I would plough through Pride and Prejudice as quickly as I got through Emma. As it happened, it took me longer to read Pride and Prejudice than I'd expected, so I went straight on to The Book Thief, making The Clan of the Cave Bear my return journey reading material.
The Clan of the Cave Bear tells the story of Ayla, an orphaned Cro-Magnon child who is adopted by a tribe of Neanderthals. She looks and acts completely differently from them, but her adoptive mother, Iza, teaches her the ways of the Clan, including their language (a form of sign language as the Neanderthals have a limited ability to vocalise). Despite her attempts to fit in, Ayla struggles as innate skills come to the fore, such as her ability to hunt; a dangerous pastime for a female, who should never touch a weapon. Even though Iza trains Ayla to take over from her as Medicine Woman, it is clear that Ayla will not be able to remain with the Clan forever.
I've read this book several times before and my copy of the series (up to the fifth one, I'm yet to pick up a copy of the sixth) belonged to my Grampy. It's one of those books I like to go back to because it reminds me of him; I can still smell him between the musty pages.
I started it on the day we left Wales and read it on and off all the way up the motorway but my progress slowed down somewhat when I got home. The world in which the story is set is incredibly detailed and I suspect that's part of what slowed me down in the reading. As Ayla grows we learn more and more about the world she lives in. On the one hand, I love this. I love that the story puts me right in the middle of that historical period. Each time I read it, I picture things the same way, and you get so much information about the setting that it's easy to imagine.
On the other hand, Auel is obviously really knowledgeable about her subject matter and wants to include everything. That means that sometimes sections read a little bit like encyclopaedia entries rather than as bits of a story. It's something which gets worse as the series progresses as well and I've noticed on occasion I'm skim-reading sections rather than paying attention to them properly, because I want to get on with bits that feel relevant to the story.
Although my progress on the book slowed down once I got home, I sped through the last chunk of the book. It seems as though the action moves along quite quickly once Durc is born. Throughout the book there are leaps forward in time, but they seem to come quicker and span larger periods than earlier in the book. At some of those bits at the end I would've liked a little more detail about what was going on socially in the Clan.
It's only really in writing this review that I've realised how slowly I'm moving through this series. I read The Clan of the Cave Bear in January, The Valley of the Horses in March, and The Mammoth Hunters in May, but I've not touched The Plains of Passage yet. Part of that's because it's on the bottom shelf of my bookcase which I keep skipping when I get to it; partly it's because it's a massive book physically, it's a full inch and a half taller than the first three in the series and about twice as wide, meaning it's entirely impractical to carry around with me; and partly because the encyclopaedic descriptions only seem to get worse as the series goes on, reaching a peak in The Plains of Passage.
That said, I'll probably try and squeeze it in before the end of the year.