by Jean M. Auel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a surprisingly good read. The big draw to this book is the main character Ayla. She was interesting and a character I was genuinely happy to see succeed while rooting for her when she was struggling.
The story was okay. Based on the theming, I didn’t expect anything large or epic. It was relatively small and self-contained. I do feel like parts were dragged on a bit too much and certain themes were repeated a lot for really no reason. I also felt like there was a lot of “science” in this book for the time period it was written. That made some moments just a little disorienting.
Despite its issues, I really did love Ayla. She made the book worth reading.
Full Review with Spoilers
I really liked this book and felt it was worth reading, but I can admit that the entire book has several issues. The main character Ayla was fantastic though. She was strong and fought against the status quo she was raised in. Of course, we see in the beginning that she is a human from another, more advanced evolution of people so she has the ability to think and learn for beyond that of the tribe who adopted her. I loved watching her grow and constantly challenge the extremely strict gender norms that the tribe followed. I loved seeing her prove the men wrong and actually end up being better at nearly everything they could do. It was actually interesting to see them start questioning their beliefs themselves because they couldn’t deny the facts that were right in front of them.
As is implied by the title, the book takes place during the cave man era, so there is room for interpreting their way of life. For the most part, this felt comfortable and I believed how the author chose to portray life in the tribe. There were a few moments though that felt very much like I was reading a text book. The story would go off into extremely deep and detailed explanations of things like plant life and usage, hunting, cave man diets, etc. This felt like the author needed for us to know just how much research she did on the various topics surrounding the story. At times this did break the immersion just a little bit because it just seemed a bit advanced for the situation.
I also felt like certain subjects were repeated a few times that really didn’t need it. For instance, we are made aware that the tribe finds Ayla to be unattractive and unlikely to find a mate. Yet this is repeated consistently throughout the whole book. The gender roles of the tribe are one of the major themes of the book, but it still felt like this is constantly hammered into us as if we would forget. The story is relatively small in scope. There isn’t a grand adventure or anything, it’s entirely just about survival of a more common everyday life. It feels like that book was stretched out just a bit too much to lengthen it because of this.
The audio book version of this was fine for the most part. The narrator did a great job voicing each character and it flowed well. The version I listened to had a couple of spots that felt rerecorded so the audio levels didn’t match for a paragraph or two. I will admit I struggled a little bit with the names. Most of the male characters have one syllable names that started with a B. This made it a bit difficult to remember who was who for a short amount of time early on. This didn’t last too long though so I would still recommend listening to the audio if it’s preferred.
I found this to be a fun read, if a bit tedious at times. I enjoyed Ayla enough that I can say she makes up for the books flaws. There’s aspects of the book that didn’t age well and do have a few uncomfortable moments that were hard to read, but made sense in the scope of the story. I can still say I recommend this book.