Book Review: The Last Neanderthal
Clue's best impression of the book cover. Photo by Kate Ota 2021
Content warning: incest, infant death
I don't typically do so many book reviews in a row, but in five weeks of commuting, I've read five books. Nearly six. So, you'll be getting book reviews for a while. I'll do my best to switch it up next week!
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron is an adult dual POV book. The first is one of the last living Neanderthals (we’ll call it 40,000 years ago) and the second is approximately modern day.
The main POV belongs to the Neanderthal, Girl, who, as the title suggests, becomes the last Neanderthal, or at least one of the last. And you know that fact as her family dies off in various accidents. She is left with one adopted sibling, who you realize pretty quickly is not a Neanderthal. She must take care of him as they attempt to find other Neanderthals.
The second POV is a modern researcher, Rose, who races against her pregnancy to finish a digging up a Neanderthal skeleton. Her chapters were few and far between, but showed the problems that modern women still face in the workplace, especially academia. Rose also had marital strains with her long-distance husband.
I had a couple problems with the book. The Neanderthal chapters went a little too far on the altered linguistics for my taste. There was also little dialogue, which the author gave evidence for, but it made it a less enjoyable read. I also did not appreciate the incest scenes. Yes, it probably happened as that species died off. No, I don’t want to be entertained by it. Rose’s modern POV didn’t get enough page space, even though it was interesting. I supremely disliked Rose’s relationship with her husband.
The book covered the discoveries about Neanderthals (through its pub date, 2017) very well. It felt more realistic to my understanding than other pieces of media I won’t name. It also seemed to do justice to the realities of an archaeological dig and the slow pace.
Overall, it was fine. It felt realistic, but maybe too much so with the incest. Readers who are interested in ancient humans or archaeology may enjoy it. It would probably appeal to fans of Clan of the Cave Bear (lots of parallels between the two). It is not for you if incest or infant death is triggering or not your taste. It’s also not for you if you want high action or a quick pace.
Have you read The Last Neanderthal? Did you enjoy it? What other Neanderthal books are worth reading? Let’s discuss in the comments!
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