I don’t give up on a book easily. I can count on one hand the times this has happened. But this book and I have come to a parting of the ways. And this is sad, because I really wanted to like this book.
I’ve always been curious about The Clan of the Cave Bear. I love the idea of setting a sweeping epic story during the time of cavemen. And the covers for this series by Jean M. Auel are absolutely beautiful and practically call to readers, promising adventure within. On a recent trip to Manhattan, I found an old paperback copy at The Strand which was autographed and figured it was finally time to dig in.
The writing is fine. Utilitarian in places, but the pacing and flow and economy of words is polished. The story, itself, begins well enough– a Homosapien girl loses her tribe and is adopted by a clan of Cro-Magnons on the great steppes of the Mammoth fields. But as interesting a world as Auel creates, I practically had to force myself to read on. Three hundred pages in, it began to feel like work. Why? This story has no ticking clock. Her protagonist, Ayla, is not given a goal or mission, other than to try to fit in–or not–as a member of the Clan. As a reader, we don’t really know why we’re reading, other than to understand Auel’s theories on Ancient society. There is simply nothing driving the narration.
To me, this book read as an experiment by a great historian to write a novel in order to get other people as excited in the things she studied as she was. And, given the success of the book in the 80’s, it worked. But it didn’t work for me. Unfortunately.