September 2017 - The Last Neanderthal, by Claire Cameron


(Jennifer D.) #41

Oh – weird!! I also have an ARC, same as yours, and I found that bit quite an interesting read. It didn’t occur to me that it wouldn’t be in the finished ‘real’ copy being sold in bookshops – I thought it might be edited to say “Dear Reader…”

I LOVE that Cameron mentioned The Clan of the Cave Bear. Heh!! (Will update that record to include description…) I read that series as it published, so I was only 13ish when it began. I felt very grownup and saucy. But I adored the series. I was sent the most recent one (2011) as an ARC, but haven’t cracked it yet… Would it hold up now?? Should I re-read the earlier books?? :rofl:

(Jennifer D.) #42

Totally cool – thank you for sharing it!!

(Jennifer D.) #43

At the start of the book – again, no spoilers here, as this comes in the pages before the story begins – this image is included:

This couple is known as ‘The Lovers of Valdaro’. Perhaps you recall seeing this discovery in the news?

A bit of an excerpt from the linked webpage:

The Valdaro Lovers is the name given to two skeletons who have been locked in an eternal embrace for the past 6,000 years. The embracing skeletons were discovered in 2007, at a Neolithic tomb near the village of Valdaro in Mantua, Italy.

The archaeologist who led the excavation was Elena Maria Menotti. Because the skeletons were found just ten years ago, it is very challenging to define anything about them so quickly. It is a long process where each bone will have to be studied thoroughly.

Menotti decided, therefore, that the couple should not be separated and that they should be moved and preserved as they were found. So, the excavation team dug up the block of earth in which they were discovered and placed them in a wooden box.

(Kim@Time2Read) #44

Did you have much knowledge of this book before it was selected for our book club read in September?

I didn’t have much knowledge about the book. I think I’d seen the cover before and assumed it was nonfiction.

Do you have any expectations going into this story?

Because I’d thought it was nonfiction, I think I was, and still am to some extent, expecting a lot of science-based details in the story. I’m not really sure what to expect from the storyline itself, except based on the synopsis, I’m expecting Girl to be the lone survivor of a catastrophic event and to somehow make contact with the ‘advanced’ species, Homo sapiens.

When you read fiction, do you appreciate extra content such as a family tree, maps or a glossary? Can you think of other novels you have read that included such extras? Did this add to your reading experience?

Absolutely! I particularly appreciate a glossary when a book throws in foreign phrases. I also appreciate a family tree when there are more than a few characters to help me place everyone in the story. Maps can be helpful, also. I recently read Kiss Carlo, which includes a glossary of Italian phrases. Circling the Sun had a map of Africa on the endpapers.

The story begins with an epigraph, quoting george eliot:
When you read this, what did/do you think??

Truthfully, that quote doesn’t call much to mind for me. I usually read an epigraph again after I finish a book, and it makes a lot more sense to me then!

(Jennifer D.) #45

SAME!! i always go back and re-read the epigraph. i do like that they often get my mind thinking. in this case (and very generally), i was thinking about the past, and how generations connect. or how you bring things forward with you, even if you aren’t aware of it.

(karenbrissette) #46

i have neither the author’s note nor that photo in my finished copy. BOOOOO!

-Did you have much knowledge of this book before it was selected for our book club read in September?

the only knowledge i had of it was from seeing at the store and reading the flap copy, putting it on my “someday, probably in paperback” radar, because i liked her first book, the bear, quite a lot.

-Do you have any expectations going into this story?

nope! i am the worst at “thinking ahead.” i pretty much plow into all my books with very little preparation, which can go either way on the pleasure/disappointment seesaw, but usually turns out okay.

-When you read fiction, do you appreciate extra content such as a family tree, maps or a glossary? Can you think of other novels you have read that included such extras? Did this add to your reading experience?

glossaries, YES - especially for slang-heavy or books written in dialect. sometimes books go too far with the glossaries - cynical karen sometimes wonders if it’s just to give the book the appearance of research and authority &etc, defining terms that are pretty common, but i might just read too much within certain areas, so i’m familiar with uncommon stuff without realizing it’s uncommon. however, i find it really frustrating when the glossary is at the end of the book, without a note saying “hey, handy glossary for you at the end!” because that’s just mean. but i do like to read the entire glossary first, before starting the book, because it locks it in my mind as far as “these are terms to expect,” and also lets me know if i will need the glossary at all.

maps - i never look at them. i always appreciate that they are there for cartography-buffs, but even maps that are meant to get me from one place to another just look like scribbles to me.

family trees i can take or leave. i think it helped me in homegoing, but also gave away something before i’d read it, which doesn’t bother me too much, but i remember having a moment of “d’oh!” in general, though, i file them under “thoughtful detail i will likely not refer to.”

-The story begins with an epigraph, quoting george eliot:

Our deeds still travel with us from afar,
and what we have been makes us what we are.
George Eliot, Middlemarch

When you read this, what did/do you think??

if we are being truth-tellers, and not trying to be impressive, my actual response was “ugh, middlemarch.” i liked mill on the floss, but middlemarch was a real drag for me. but i’m the same as kim - usually i will return to the epigraph (and if there’s a prologue, i will reread that, too) after i finish the whole thing, for perspective. the “proper” way is too speculative for me - i wanna get into the story immediately, not anticipate about “what could it signify???”

(karenbrissette) #47

OH - the photograph is at the END of my copy. so.

(Jennifer D.) #48

HA! thanks for that laugh, @karenbrissette!! :rofl:

(Jane D) #49

I have finished the first section of reading and am not sure I can control myself from continuing!

But to answer your quesitons:

I was aware of the book as I had seen it on lists of books to read this summer. Initially when I saw the title, I too, thought it was non-fiction. I loaded this title on the Kindle as I was planning several trips over the summer. I wanted to load up the Kindle with several books in order to have a variety of reads at my fingertips in the likely event that I would be stuck in an airport.
When we were on our travels in Berlin, we visited the “Neues Museum” (where the big draw is Nefertiti’s magnificent bust) where there is the skull of an 11-year old Neanderthal. So that night after seeing that skull and experiencing jet lag wakefulness, I dipped into “The Last Neanderthal”. But somehow, as I started reading the story and envisioning the main character, “Girl” as the last of her kind, that image of the skull in the museum, all alone sort of haunted me. I was filled with so much anxiety that I had to stop reading. It was a very bizarre experience and I am happy to say that now, as I read the book with this group, I am not having any problem! So sorry for the ramble, but it just goes to show you that there is such a thing as a right and a wrong time for a particular read!

As I said, when I initially saw the title/cover, I thought it was nonfiction. When I realized that it was not, I thought it might have some similarities to the Jean Auel of which I read the first one many many moons ago!

I love love maps in books. Family trees are great when there is a large inter connected family or saga. I am not sure it is necessary here but I did like to see that it is a it follows the maternal line. A glossary is fantastic for the odd slang term or obscure reference.

I think, I just paused for a moment but then started reading. Usually I, flip back to an epigraph after I am well into the book or after I am finished.

(Jennifer D.) #50

i couldn’t control myself… i read the whole thing already. :joy:

wow - what a visceral experience! thank you for trying again with us, and i am so happy to hear it is going much better this time!!

(Kate Minckler) #51

I have to say, that is one of the most interesting answers to the ‘Did you have knowledge of this book’ question I’ve ever seen! Thank you for sharing. What an interesting reaction. :+1:

(Jane D) #52

Thanks, Kate. I was a little wary of sharing it.

(Kate Minckler) #53

So glad you did! We never read in a bubble, and it’s fascinating how these books can intersect with our lives. :slight_smile:

(Rebecca Wells Demaree) #54

I did not know of this book- or author- prior to this choice for discussion book. I don’t think I would have necessarily selected to read it myself but I did enjoy “Clan of the Cave Bear” when I was in my teens and I thought the neaderthal sections would be like that.

I don’t usually bother with maps or family trees in books- if I cannot understand from context I don’t usually go further- unless it is a nonfiction work.

I enjoyed the first 7 chapters but I will be irritated if Simon becomes a stereotypical “you must now give up everything because you are pregnant” partner. That might cause me to throw the book/ here’s hoping you behave Simon…

(Bookjunkie ) #55

I read mostly fiction, historical fiction is my favorite genre. I LOVE family trees, time lines, glossery, etc. It helps me to understand things going on in the story better. Only thing is, I tend to read Kindle versions mostly as my eyes are quite bad & I have to enlarge the font. (Maybe from years of late night reading. Lol!) Enjoying the extra helps is harder in a Kindle version.

I appreciated the Quote at the beginning, it sets up the story for me. Makes me want to reread that soon!

(Bookjunkie ) #56

Thank you for sharing this experince. Travel and exposing ourselves to history can enhance a reading experience and allow it to be more meaningful and enlightened. Sorry, it was initially haunting but glad you are able to get through it now. I too, believe that some books require the right time to be read.

(Jennifer D.) #57

happy sunday, everyone!!

i am just transcribing the summary for this past week and will be posing it with the questions/prompts very soon!!

can’t wait to get into a bit more of the meat of the book… no pun intended.


(Jennifer D.) #58

Week 1 - Summary and Discussion Points

01 - 09 September: Through end of Chapter 7

Family Tree

  • Emphasis in note of small population of neanderthals at time of this story


  • Description of similarities and physical traits
  • “I am not alone.”

Part 1 - Chapter 1

  • We meet he neanderthal family, sleeping in a pile in their hut
  • ‘Warm’

Chapter 2

  • Beginning of spring; start of the bison hunt
  • Big Mother wears bison horns - head of the family; has seen at least 30 Springs; milky eyes
  • Explanation that things don’t really die, only change. But all change comes with discomfort and unease
  • Family has plans to travel to the meeting place for the annual fish run
    Him (brother) experiencing urges to mate and eat
  • Family has a stone slab… a thing is made precious by how many hands of the family had touched it before. The stone slab is used to make sticky pitch from birch bark
  • Bent (brother) has a crooked, curved arm
  • Runt (foundling) has seen 6 or 7 winters. Frail appearance. Position in the family uncertain. Found along the river by another family. Big Mother took pity and gave him a piece of fish. Runt attached himself to Big Mother. Not growing up and out like the others.
  • Him senses balance of family is off

Chapter 3

  • Big Mother has a warning story, about a brother and sister who ‘developed a taste for each other’. Their people determined they should be killed - they escaped death by following the fish/river all the way to the sea. Then ate only clawed sea creatures, and drank salt water
  • To reinforce message of this story, Big Mother gave Girl a seashell, which she wears on a lash around her neck
  • Anything elaborate in the way of naming puts strain on throat. Rather than words, rituals formed pattern of lives
  • Rare to have 2 generations alive a one time
  • The fish run at the meeting place a chance to ensure family survival and succession
  • Girl pre-chews food for Big Mother, to help her eat
  • Girl always hungry
  • Girl ‘in heat’ - knows she must wait for meeting place. Wants to make Big Mother proud the way her ‘Big Sister’ succeeded in doing before.

Dr. Pepper

  • Meet Rosamund Gale (Rose) and her assistant Andy. Andy retired early at age 62 from finance, and returned to school to complete his PhD.
  • Rose is 3-months pregnant; 39yo. Partner, Simon, in London
  • At a dig in France have found 2 sets of remains. First set ancient male, modern human, homo sapien. Just discovered 2nd set of bones are neanderthal
  • DNA testing show many humans inherited genes from neanderthal and vice versa, yet little known about relations between them
  • 2 skeletons positioned together, facing each other
  • Position evidence of a more complex communication
  • “…things that don’t fossilize that matter most.”

Chapter 4

  • Back to Girl and family - going to bison crossing to scout for hunt
  • Wildcat a companion to Girl
  • See that the herd is small, only 5 animals instead of 10 - 15+ in a family herd
  • Bent noted as the kindest of them; most anxious about Big Mother’s weakening body. Tries to be reassuring for her.
  • Note that beasts on the land let family pass - if family makes a kill, many of the animals would benefit. The hunt connected them all
  • Shape rocks into tools
  • All beasts = meat. Two kinds of meat: 1) meat that gets to eat; 2) meat that gets eaten

Chapter 5

  • Family hides to wait for bison
  • Calf and its mother appear
  • They try to get calf, but it all goes terrible wrong in the rock channel
  • Girl about to be rammed by mother bison; Bent jumps on cow’s back
  • Girl blacks out

Pink Lines

  • Rose contacts Ancient History Museum in NYC - Tim Spalding, trustee
  • Rose going to Manhattan, trying to secure funding. Meets with Maya Patel, Caitlin Alfonso (primatologist), and Guy Henri - Parisian curator, appointed to NYC museum, keen to engage public more. Wants to make museum into a centre for “didacticism and debate”
  • Huge shift in conception of Neanderthals. DNA helping to deepen understanding of their biology
  • Panel questions why Neanderthals didn’t survive -unlikely single cause. Had been a stable culture for 200,000 + years, but low population density left them vulnerable and they lacked safety net of social network
  • Debate with panel goes back and forth
  • Rose finally shows them the photo of the two skeletons and the panel immediately sees the importance of this discovery. “They look like lovers.” – Rose secures a large grant.

Part II - Chapter 6

  • Girl comes to
  • Mother bison badly wounded on the river ice. Him standing guard
  • Bent dragged and gored by bison - on the ground. Too much blood; faint pulse. Brain exposed, legs mangled. His crooked arm looked fine.
  • Girl picks up Bent and carried him while humming so he could feel the vibrations
  • Family surrounds Bent to circle him with ‘warm’, and all join in on the hum as he transitions from the world
  • Bison calf, to girl, looked more alone than a beast ever had
  • Calf lets Girl walk right up to her. Girl holds horns while Him spears it. Girl then also spears calf
  • Girl drinks the fresh blood from the calf’s neck. Calf’s life would give the family strength
  • Bent dies soon after.

Chapter 7

  • Through grief for Bent Girl works to strip meat off mother bison. Cooked most of the meat but custom = first bites from fresh carcass, raw
  • Him helping Girl
  • As Him watches Girl work, powerful urges surface. Big Mother sees this and throws a rock which hits Him in the head. Him is not to touch Girl. Message received.
  • Girl gives Runt a choice piece of meat. Him displeased, knocks Runt on his bottom and snatched meat away. But gives him a part of a rib
  • Big Mother has taken offense - she should be directing hunt and how meat shared
  • Girl careful to show she still knew her place - makes herself small and unthreatening. Kneels down, submissive to Big Mother
  • Big Mother places her hand on Girl’s head. After a pause, indicates she wants to be fed
  • Girl wants to not yet be in charge; wants to be allowed to stay in family

Discussion Questions/Prompts

  1. The novel is told through alternating POVs, between the past and present, through Girl and Rose. How are you finding this method of storytelling?
  2. Have you noticed any connections between Girl and Rose, beyond the dig site, and the places each are at in their lives?
  3. At this stage, do you feel Cameron has done a good job for you in evoking the Neanderthal family of the past, and the characters and dig site of the present?
  4. What has surprised you most in these first chapters?
  5. Do you have any questions or observations you would like to share about the reading to the end of chapter 7?

(Jennifer D.) #59
  1. i am finding cameron’s style working well for me. so far, she seems great at building tension and curiosity in me… when i am with Girl, i am wondering about Rose and keen to get back to that storyline. but when i am with Rose, i am equally anxious to return to Girl and her family. i am a bit fond of andy. awww!!

  2. i guess my only real thought about Girl and Rose is they are both unsettled in their lives, and it feels like they are at turning points/time of big transitions. maybe?

  3. i like how there seems to be the blending of fact and fiction going on in how cameron is shaping this story. i also feel like the settings and situations are well written - it all feels quite vivid as i read.

  4. i think what has surprised me most is the idea about how small the neanderthal population was at the time of this story. i was surprised by the isolation from others beyond the nuclear family.

  5. i can’t really think of anything else to ask or comment on at this stage… but i am super-keen to hear how the read is going for you all. are you liking it and finding yourself engaged? or… not?


(Kim@Time2Read) #60

I agree with you about the glossary. I do appreciate them, and like you, I read through them before I start the book. But I can’t do that if I don’t know it exists because I didn’t think to check the end of the book!