September 2017 - The Last Neanderthal, by Claire Cameron


(Kim@Time2Read) #61

The novel is told through alternating POVs, between the past and present, through Girl and Rose. How are you finding this method of storytelling?

I generally like the ‘alternating viewpoints’ method of storytelling, but so far, this isn’t working so well for me. I think it is because I am not far enough into the story yet, but right now, I’m finding the ‘Girl’ story very interesting, and the ‘Rose’ story a distraction.

Have you noticed any connections between Girl and Rose, beyond the dig site, and the places each are at in their lives?

Again, I’m not far enough into the story to feel a firm connection. Reaching a bit, I can say both are in a stage of life where they are ready to start a new family.

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?

I am feeling very connected to the Neanderthal story. The events of the hunt feel very plausible. The dig site story also feels real, but I haven’t felt connected to the characters yet.

What has surprised you most in these first chapters?

I can’t say anything has really surprised me yet. I went in with no expectations, and haven’t read far enough to feel surprised about anything. I can’t say I was surprised by the death of Bent, but I was a little saddened by it.

Do you have any questions or observations you would like to share about the reading to the end of chapter 7?

LOL! Not to be repetitive, but I think I need to read a little farther.

(Jennifer D.) #62

interesting!! i can understand this feeling completely. cameron really, for me, distinguishes the two storylines well, but Girl’s time is more urgent as i am reading.

(Jennifer D.) #63

just thought i would make a note of what is on the reading schedule for this week.

how is the read going for you all, so far?

would love to hear your thoughts on the book up to the end of chapter 7, so please don’t be shy about sharing your comments or questions on that part of the book!

(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #64

I’m going to be reading this one starting today - I had to finish this one book from the library first, but now I can dedicate my time here! :slight_smile:

(Rebecca Wells Demaree) #65

I am pulled into the Girl story and Rose I am just finding vastly irritating but I am assuming their stories converge as the book progresses. The sense of smell is interesting to me in Girl’s family and the relationship between Girl and wildcat- I don’t know enough to determine if Cameron is using these things to “humanize?homosapienize??” The neanderthal “girl” so we can better relate to her story. I look forward to reading the progression of these ideas.

(Jennifer D.) #66

yes!! these are both interesting features in the story for me as well.

(karenbrissette) #67

ugh- i messed up the reading schedule and only read up until part two in preparation so i’m a little bit behind and now i know THINGS! which is fine - i just got confused by the “girl” chapters being numbered and the rose chapters being titled and figured that part II was the organic stopping-point. life has been a busy haze. also, i’m not in love with this yet, which makes me feel sad. i’m usually a fan of split-narratives, but these feel disproportionate - lots of girl, blips of rose, and neither of those characters have made me feel any urgency to keep reading. i hope it will hook me soon, and that i will have more interesting thoughts to share, but right now i’m just kind of at a distance from the narrative…

(Kim@Time2Read) #68

This didn’t exactly confuse me, but I did find it interesting. I wonder if there is any significance to the difference; for example, the use of the alphabet is more evolved than the use of numbering? Guess I’ll have to read farther to see if this plays into the story at all, or if it is just a convention the author decided to use.

(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #69

I do like the split storyline - I’m very keen on finding how they will come together or connect. But this urgency about thinking Rose has found perhaps Girl’s remains is adding to this wonderful suspense of finding out how things come to an end for Girl?

I like the banter between Rose and Andy and the connection Rose feels towards Girl (it’s got to be her right?) already.
Wonderfully imaginative of Cameron to take that photo of those remains we see at the beginning (it was posted above) and build a story out of it!

I’m keen to continue reading to see where this goes. Treacherous living for Girl! Again, wonderfully imagined how they would have communicated and how they lived together - the creation of a personal story.

(Jennifer D.) #70

oh, shoot! i am so sorry i wasn’t more clear with the schedule. :frowning:

i ended up reading it right through over 2 days… because i felt like i couldn’t/didn’t want to pause from the narrative. i feel like reading it quickly helped me enjoy it… i have been wondering if stretching out the read would have made me feel differently?? generally, i am TERRIBLE at reading to a schedule.

(Jane D) #71

I am enjoying the alternating POV but am more drawn to the Girls narrative then Rose’s story at this point. I am enjoying both though!! I love a well done alternating POV novel and this method is working for me here.

I think both Girl and Rose are at a crossroads. Girl will have to leave her family and start her own. Her role will change to matriarch in a new family. They are both grappling with outside forces beyond their control. The bison hunt has taken younger brother Bent. Rose has secured funding but the conditions on the money is a schedule that will collide with her due date. Both women have a great deal of pressure on them.

I am really enjoying the way Cameron has described the Neanderthal way of life. The manner in which they work as a unit. Their use of the senses in relating to the world reminds me things I learned in Wade Davis’s

This book examines they way indigenous cultures hone skills and amass knowledge of the natural world in order to survive and navigate in it. For me it seems that Cameron is touching on this in her description of the Neanderthal family unit’s way of life.

For me no surprises yet.

I wonder when/if Girl will meet modern humans in her story. I do not have the photo of the Valdaro lovers at the beginning of my copy of the book. So knowing that it is in some of your copies of the book brings me hope that Girls will not be left all alone!

(Jennifer D.) #72

great point!! i am such a fan of wade davis’s books and work!

(Jennifer D.) #73

How’s everyone doing with the read, so far?

This week’s schedule covers chapters 8 through the end of chapter 15 (pages 73 - 142 in the ARC edition I am using). The chapters are as follows:

8; 9; Archie Comics; 10, 11; Ketchup; 12; 13; 14; Elastic Band; 15.

This will be the focus when I post the summary and questions tomorrow!

I hope you are al finding this an interesting book club selection!


(karenbrissette) #74

i am all caught up and ready to go! i’ve been a bit time-slapped, so i haven’t been awesome at contributing, but i will be here tomorrow with my my thoughtful and reflective face!

(Jane D) #75

I have finished this weeks reading!

(Martha Conway) #76

Like others, I find myself much more interested in Girl’s storyline. I am completely in awe by Cameron’s ability to show Girl’s life in such detail. I really feel as if I understand more about what life was like for Neanderthals and early humans then.

(Penny / Literary Hoarders ) #77

I just finished the book but I will be totally able to keep to discussing only the scheduled sections! Great one for book club discussion.

(Jennifer D.) #78

Welcome to today’s activity!!

Here is the summary, and some discussion questions to prompt us along. Please do not feel limited or restricted by the questions – if you have your own thoughts or things you are wondering about concerning this section of the read, please do share them so we can talk about them!!

Week 2 - Summary and Discussion Points

10 - 16 September; Chapters 8 through end of 15

Chapter 8

  • Butchering of the meat; family missing Bent and the role he played during this task. Processing a large bison with so few people difficult
  • Grieving took on a practical place
  • Loss of Bent tilted the family into a precarious situation, especially considering Big Mother and Runt so weak - though loath to admit this
  • Girl curls upper lip - heightened senses through her lip and gums
  • Wildcat reappears - a friendship between hunger and opportunity

Chapter 9

  • Him and Girl at the river - tired from their heavy work and sorrow
  • Him’s hands are the primary tools - hands very cold from the river water
  • Girl believed reasons for acting crazy often came down to temperature
  • Girl warms Him’s hands; Him grateful; notices Girl in heat
  • Him and Girl have sex - afterwards, Girl realizes how exposed they left themselves. They hadn’t been watching their own backs
  • Young leopard watching

Archie Comics

  • Rose - her grandfather was the first person to tell her about neanderthals
  • Rose and her brother spent time with their grandparents at their cabin in the Laurentians
  • Grandfather had a book by H.G. Wells - probably this one:
  • Rose’s imagination and questions were fired up by grandfather’s stories
  • Rose emails Tim Spalding informing him of her pregnancy
  • Dig going slower than Rose would like
  • Tim replies to email two weeks later, noting Caitlin Alfonso will be project manager while Rose is on leave
  • Rose gets annoyed, and questions the politics behind the decision to put Caitlin in charge
  • Rose writes back noting unlawfulness of compelling an employee to take leave
  • Rose asks Andy if she is difficult - he answers ‘yes’, but also notes he thinks she is brave

Chapter 10

  • Family buries Bent at dusk - best time to transition to the other side of the dirt
  • Buried in the fetal position. Think back to a time before you were born - did you suffer? Were you hungry? Were you cold?
  • Honor lay in family using Bent’s things in their day-to-day lives - cloak, axe, drinking sack, spear, tools - these benefit the family
  • Learn about the burial of another brother, Fat Boy - under the rootball of a tree, becomes part of the tree
  • Girl not quite ready/accepting of change to come - she climbs into the grave with Bent, lies facing him, feels “warm”

Chapter 11

  • Family pile for sleep not the same
  • Him and Girl leave the hut and have sex again
  • Him realizes he failed in protecting Big Mother and Runt while he was away from the hut. Feels guilt - to do work of Father he needs to watch family
  • Him knows he’s not supposed to touch Girl like that
  • Big Mother wakes up and sniffs – knows what’s happened
  • Big Mother tells Girl to “Fly away” and growls and hisses at Girl
  • Girl and Him both make themselves submissive to Big Mother - Big Mother screams at Girl
  • Girl has shown willingness to break taboo
  • Girl eventually leaves the hearth of the family, for the very first time in her life


  • Rose is 8 ½ months pregnant now
  • Caitlin was sent over, but not in charge of dig - working as a project manager handling logistics
  • Simon about to arrive and they plan to drive back to London two days later
  • Rose goes into town, to the small house the dig has leased, and waits for Simon
  • We hear about how Rose and Simon met
  • Simon arrives; they have sex, then he makes her grilled cheese, with ketchup he has brought as a treat for Rose.
  • Simon has been told the university has no classes for him to teach for the upcoming year which will be a major financial hit for them (he’s at LSE, teaching English)
  • Rose gets annoyed by the clutter and decides this needs to be fixed - wants to go to Ikea

Chapter 12

  • Girl knows the borders of her family’s territory - decides she will follow the river to the edge of the boundary and will remain at the edge
  • “To take a body out of a family was like severing a limb.”
  • Girl tunes into her immediate situation and surroundings
  • Girl feels profoundly alone; unwelcome sense of freedom

Chapter 13

  • Girl finds that another family has lived at the spot where she settles
  • Girl didn’t hunt, but Wildcat did - mostly subsisting on greens and water
  • Girl waiting for death to come, body stubbornly resistant
  • Girl senses a shift in the air, “something” came down the river
  • Girl senses trauma
  • She goes back to her family hearth

Chapter 14

  • Leopard had actually followed Girl for a bit
  • Meets up with female leopard
  • As Girl approaches camp, smell of blood strong - there had been a fight
  • Leopard lands on Girl’s chest - they fight
  • Big Mother cries out
  • Female leopard joins in attack on Girl

Elastic Band

  • Rose and SImon spend Friday night at dig site
  • Amais shares that Caitlin experienced a breakdown in Kenya
  • Rose notes “everyone’s history is their own business”
  • Late in the night, Andy talks with Simon about his wife, Patricia - Rose notes Andy barely talks to her about Patricia
  • Morning - Andy has left water and snack at Rose’s bedside for her - Rose and Simon more self-sufficient with one another
  • Rose using an elastic band to hold her pants closed - it snaps off and she can’t find another
  • She cries – something she doesn’t believe in at work
  • Andy catches her in this moment
  • Caitlin has a National Geographic reporter at the dig site - Rose upset
  • Fred is someone the museum trusts but Rose accuses Caitlin /museum putting the show before the science
  • Caitlin notes that Rose seems a little out of control
  • Rose’s pants fall down as she goes to shake Fred’s hand

Part III - Chapter 15

  • Girl and leopards fighting
  • Girl eventually stabs and gores both cats, thanks to Big Mother throwing a rock/causing a distraction
  • Girl hates the smell of cat meat - eating cat meat is a sign of weakness
  • Girl finds Him’s body
  • Big Mother and Runt are up a tree
  • Big Mother is badly wounded - leopards went after weaker ones before Him interfered
  • Runt also wounded, but not gravely
  • Girl is pregnant
  • Big Mother passes her horns to Girl
  • “Smells too the mind places like none of the other senses could.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Prior to starting this novel, had you ever thought about how hard the very act of existing was for neanderthals and early people?
  2. How would you manage if suddenly cast back to neanderthal times, and we had to live as they did?
  3. Why do you believe Girl was the one banished, and not Him? Was this a fair action ordered by Big Mother?
  4. Were you previously aware of the H.G. Wells story?
  5. Why do you feel Rose is so protective of the dig site, and her role on the project?
  6. Do you have a good feel for the relationship between Rose and Simon? What do you make of it?
  7. Was there a moment in this part of the reading that really stood out for you?
  8. Why do you think Girl’s chapters have numbered titles, whereas Rose’s chapters have word titles?
  9. Do you agree with Andy’s assessment that Rose is brave?

Thank you so much for participating this week – can’t wait to hear your thoughts!!


(Susan Beamon) #79

I am more interested in Girl’s story than in Rose’s.
1-I haven’t thought about how hard it was to live in the past because I think each time has its rules for survival. Within those rules, life isn’t seen by the people the as hard. They would have had no frame of reference To think things could be easier.
2-If I were plucked from my life as I am, without tools and survival gear that I know how to use, I think I would have trouble. I might adapt to that environment, but it would be iffy. But then, I am much older than Big Mother.
3-There are several reasons. First, women run the families. With Girl’s coming child, she could challenge Big Mother for the Big Mother horns. Then, as a breeding woman, Girl has a better chance of joining another family group. Him would be expected to bring a woman into his family as an eventual successor to Big Mother. It may not have been fair, but the separation was only supposed to last until the Fish Run gathering.
4-No, and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I find the writing style of H.G.Wells’ time too wordy for comfortable reading.
5-I think Rose had worked so hard on her theory about Neanderthals and all she had received was ridicule. The site might have proved she was right. If she was removed from the project, the next researcher could use the findings to challenge her theory.
6-I have no opinion about rose and Simon
7-Big Mother gave Girl the horns, passing responsibility for what remained of the family to her.
8-There are two stories, connected but separate. This is an easy way to mark them as separate.
9-In my experience, every time a pregnant woman behaves as if the pregnancy wasn’t a huge bother and incapacitating event, the men around her act like she’s brave or strong or something equally foolish.

(Jennifer D.) #80

thank you so much for these great thoughts, @Susan_Beamon!!