Summary and book reviews of The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron

The Last Neanderthal

by Claire Cameron

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron X
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2017, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2018, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Chris Fredrick

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the author of The Bear, the enthralling story of two women separated by millennia, but linked by an epic journey that will transform them both.

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.

Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, The Last Neanderthal asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.

Prologue

They didn't think as much about what was different. There was good reason for this, as they lived in small family groups. Every day was spent among people who were similar to them. The bodies that sat around the fire shared the same kind of cowlick at the backs of their heads, or the same laugh, or teeth that were equally crooked. Every time a head turned to look, a body could find one part of itself in another. It's because of their similarities to us that I can speak for them when I say that much of what you've heard isn't true. They were kind and clever. They had hands with opposable thumbs and a light dusting of hair on the backs. They had hearts that throbbed in their chests when they saw certain people, and this happened more than you might expect. Their brains were larger than ours by about 10 percent. Many of us have inherited up to 4 percent of their DNA, and now that both genomes have been sequenced, we know that theirs differed from ours by only...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
1) What did you know about Neanderthals before reading the novel? Did the novel change your perception of Neanderthals?

2) Big Mother upholds certain taboos about sex. Why do you think she chooses to expel Girl? How clearly does she see this decision and its consequences?

3) The Neanderthals in the novel lived in a tight family group, whereas Rose lives far away from her family and friends. Do you choose to live close by, or farther away from, your social network? How does this affect your life decisions?

4) Girl and Runt form a special bond. How does their relationship alter over the course of the novel? What changes it the most?

5) Where do you think Runt came from when the family found him? What is different about him?

6) ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Both protagonists struggle under different circumstances, but it is the similarities of these challenges that Cameron reinforces. Some of these parallels feel too heavily drawn. Cameron offers readers a possible storyline that doesn't differentiate our earliest ancestors from Neanderthals so much as welcome Neanderthals into the human tribe. Rose's narrative demonstrates the academic tension and the cultural resistance to new knowledge when it counters long-held cultural beliefs.   (Reviewed by Chris Fredrick).

Full Review (981 words).

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Media Reviews

USA Today
Arresting... Gripping... This vivid...novel makes clear how much we carry on from those who existed long before us.

Kirkus Reviews
Across millennia, Neanderthal and Homo sapiens, ancient girl and contemporary woman, hunter and scientist - all share much in common.

Los Angeles Review of Books
Cameron pulls out all the literary stops in giving Neanderthals as much free rein, agency, and authenticity as possible.... This could easily be the best book that shakes up the classic Neanderthal tropes in science fiction and fantasy.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. [The] book's greatest strength [is] its ability to collapse time and space to draw together seemingly dissimilar species: ancestors and successors, writer and reader.

The Toronto Star
Masterfully examines our connections to our evolutionary cousins...a novel to cherish.

Author Blurb Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
A powerful, warm and thought-provoking book that artfully blends facts with fiction to put flesh on many abstract scientific debates.

Author Blurb Herman Koch, bestselling author of The Dinner
The Last Neanderthal is one of those novels that opens the world to you in a different way. And after you finish reading, this world will never look the same to you again.

Author Blurb Pamela Erens, author of Eleven Hours
The Last Neanderthal is astonishing ... I'm thrilled by Cameron's adventurous and deeply empathic tale, an example of what fiction at its best can do.

Author Blurb Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter
Claire Cameron's newest novel, The Last Neanderthal, is fascinating, insightful and poignant; a moving narrative of the last survivors of a harsh and unforgiving environment that is both exotic and achingly familiar. It is a story of our profound connectedness to our ancestors, exploring the ultimate question of what it means to be truly 'human.'

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Beyond the Book

Homo Neanderthalensis

Claire Cameron's The Last Neanderthal stirs interest in our closest evolutionary relative, Homo neanderthalensis.

Recreation of Neanderthal male Evidence from both fossil and genetic research suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans evolved from a common ancestor between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago. Neanderthals lived in Europe and southwestern and central Asia. The regions inhabited by Neanderthals overlapped with early Homo sapiens for some period of time, and interbreeding is confirmed: most modern humans have between 1% and 4% Neanderthal DNA.

The Neanderthals were not much different from us. National Geographic's GENOgraphic project's web page on Neanderthals states that a "growing number of scientists have argued that the Neanderthals' similarities ...

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