Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

Wow. This book blew me away. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I requested it from the library; I have a vague recollection of knowing it was about an archaeologist and a neanderthal, and that was it.  It was so much more that I am declaring it to be one of my favorite books of 2017.  

Two stories, thousands of years apart, yet entwined together.  Rose is an archaeologist working in France in a cave where she has recently made a ground-breaking discovery: the skeletal remains of a Neanderthal and the remains of a "modern" human, buried together facing each other.  This find will turn the idea of Neanderthals going extinct through extermination by modern humans completely around.  Many will doubt the clear evidence, as they are happy to continue to believe Neanderthals were, well, neanderthal-ish in their lifestyle and behavior, and were incapable of intersecting and living with modern humans.  This will make Rose's career.

The other story is told by Girl.  She is the Neanderthal Rose finds in the cave centuries later.  Girl lives within a small family:  Big Mother, Brother, Bent, and Runt.  Runt has stayed with the family ever since he was discovered wandering around the forest.  He's very different looking than Girl and her family:  dark skinned, black hair, more finely boned.  Girl has bright red hair, and a body that is made to be muscular and incredibly strong. She is a warrior queen. Girl is so finely tuned into the world around her that she, along with her family, are able to sense warm blooded creatures just by feeling the air currents flow over their upper gums.  They are so much a part of the cycle of life that they can feel the trees' thoughts, sense bears hybernating, and move through their days completely a part of the world around them. Claire Cameron's prose is just beautiful.  Her descriptions of the reverence and honor Girl and her family have for the world around them is one of the best parts of this novel. 

I quickly became obsessed with Girl's story.  Tragedy upon tragedy quickly follows Girl, and soon she is completely alone. Or is she?  I was all in on her quest to survive, and her fight to not give up.  Girl is tenacious, quick thinking, warm, kind, and capable.  She's a survivor.  Life is pretty black and white in Girl's time, and there was no room or time for contemplating morals.  It was kill or be killed.  

Rose is also obsessed with uncovering the two skeletons.  She is prepared to fight for her vision of Neanderthals, knowing it will be an uphill battle against established beliefs in the scientific community.  Working against time (Rose discovers she is pregnant at the beginning of the novel) she feverishly works to uncover as much of Girl as she can before she's forced to leave and have her child.  Two women, from two very different worlds, fighting for survival in very different ways.  Rose is Girl's storyteller, and she fights hard to tell the true story.

This was such a good book.  I would love to see this as a movie.  When it comes down to it, the connection we share with our Neanderthal ancestors (yes, we do have Neanderthal in our DNA) is knowing that we are not alone in this world. I was sad to see my time with Girl come to an end. What a powerful character. What a powerful woman.  

Rating:  5/6 for a roller coaster ride through the life of the last Neanderthal, Girl.  Her connections to the land and nature are beautifully written by Claire Cameron.  Girl is an unforgettable character to me.  Rose is also equally strong, but Girl is the star of this novel. 

Available in hardcover and e-book. 


  1. My degree is Anthropology/Archaeology so this is a read I would like. Great review.

    1. Thank you Leona. Yes, you'll enjoy it. Girl is unforgettable!

  2. Wow, I am so glad to hear that you found this good. I have had the book on my list all year. Going to get to it soon!