Claire Cameron: The Last Neanderthal

The Last Neanderthal Cover

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate.

But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself.

In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women’s lives.

Regarded as one of 2017’s most anticipated books of the year, The Last Neanderthal follows two characters in separate time periods and the parallels they share within their lives. In the present day we have Rosamund Gale, a budding archaeologist who believes she has come upon something profound in the field surrounding Neanderthals and our relationship to them. Whilst over 40,000 years ago we have Girl, a young Neanderthal who suffers loss and great sacrifice in order to keep herself and what is left of her family alive.

This is definitely a novel to be anticipated and one that I found immensely enriching as well as deep and momentous. Cameron clearly states that she has researched into the subject area regarding modern humans and their relationship with Neanderthals and whether they ever had any form of sexual relationship, something that is implemented within the novel through Rosamund Gale and her own similar research. Written alongside the narrative of Girl, Cameron helps to solidify and back up Rosamund’s theory by expressing the hardships and sacrifices that Girl must go through in order to keep her family line continuing, even giving up a part of herself for that to happen. It is this moment (I will not provide details) that I found quite profound and, though shocking, really added to the atmosphere of the time and the importance of survival during the harsh climate of that era.

When I first began this novel with the immediate introduction of Girl, I immediately questioned whether Cameron would be able to pull off a novel where the majority of her characters cannot speak coherently like modern day humans. We are provided with a glossary of “words” or sounds that are used by the Neanderthals and what they represent within a given context, and these are implemented within the novel. Cameron does a brilliant job at portraying the Neanderthals regardless of this boundary that could make or break the novel. We are provided with a lot of sensory information and descriptions of actions and setting to help get a feel for the characters and how they were able to interact without any form of developed language. Just from their actions, you can understand the relationships they form and how they managed to work as a coherent unit when hunting or fighting for survival. This description and sensory information really made the novel and was an aspect that I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated as you begin to fully understand Cameron’s research into the species as well as her ability to write by showing, and not telling.

Following on from the profound moment is when you really begin to understand the similarities between Girl and Rosamund as they begin to experience events that run parallel to each other. Coming after Girl’s experience, I found my heart racing and my thoughts running mad as I began to comprehend that Rosamund may be forced into the same situation, whether through choice or by accident and found myself really empathising with the characters in both of their situations.

The Last Neanderthal is definitely profound and quite thought-provoking as Cameron brings to the realisation that humans and Neanderthals weren’t necessarily all that different in some aspects of their lives. The ending, though definitely a resolution, I felt could have expanded a bit more on Girl and similarly, would have clarified to the reader (though it is all but obvious) that the Neanderthal in Rosamund’s dig site was Girl. I couldn’t recommend The Last Neanderthal enough!


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