- ISBN-13: 9780316314480
- ISBN-10: 031631448X
- Publisher: Little Brown and Company
- Publish Date: April 2017
- Page Count: 288
- Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2017-02-27
- Reviewer: Staff
Forty millennia separate the two female protagonists of this impressively executed novel from the author of The Bear. In the distant past, a Neanderthal named Girl struggles to define her role in a depleted family that includes her aged mother, Big Mother; her brother, Him; and Runt, a foundling. Now of childbearing age, Girl is secretly impregnated by Him and soon thereafter cast out by Big Mother, and though the family is eventually reunited, a failed hunt leaves several of them dead. Girl is left to care for Runt while leading them to the meeting place, where theyll hopefully join a new family. Interspersed with Girls story are flash-forwards to Rose, the pregnant anthropologist who unearths Girls bones positioned intimately beside those of a human. The births of both Rose and Girls children, past and present, threaten to destroy the lives of the respective mothers, as Rose is forced to leave the dig site, while Girl must deliver the baby alone in a snowstorm. The contrasting and similar reactions to motherhood are emblematic of the books greatest strengthits ability to collapse time and space to draw together seemingly dissimilar species: ancestors and successors, writer and reader. Agent: Denise Bukowski, the Bukowski Agency. (Apr.)
Two women, eons apart
Neanderthal kills bison. Neanderthal eats bison. Bear eats bison carcass. Birds clean carcass. Worms spread carcass remains. Rain washes remains into river. Algae grows, fed by decomposing bison. River fish eats algae. All life is connected.
Girl knows this cycle well. One of the last Neanderthals, Girl understands that every step of a hunt affects not only her family but also the animals that surround them. They, too, are animals, and they have respect for their role in the cycle.
In the present day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale believes Neanderthals recognized their interconnectivity, but the scientific world isn’t buying into her ideas. It’s a thrilling moment, then, when Rose uncovers Neanderthal and human skeletons lying side by side. They’re positioned as though the two died staring into one another’s eyes.
Modern humans cling to the idea that Neanderthals were a lesser species, and that’s why Homo sapiens prevailed. Rose is convinced her discovery not only places the two in the same time period, but also suggests Neanderthals even interacted with humans.
In The Last Neanderthal, Claire Cameron expertly intertwines Girl’s and Rose’s stories. Though they are separated by 40,000 years and exist in almost wholly separate worlds, the women are bonded. They face their bodies’ sexual maturation and capability to create life. They’re challenged by the expectations and limitations of being a woman in their respective times. In turn, Cameron challenges the reader to consider his or her own existence. This is an engaging tale that celebrates the search for life’s meaning and its quotidian nature.