In Claire Cameron's new novel, the last Neanderthal on Earth and a modern-day archeologist are connected despite time and space.
If there's one overarching message in this thought-provoking page-turner, it's that we're more alike than we're different.
Split between two narratives—that of Girl, one of the last Neanderthals to roam our planet, and Rosamund, a work-obsessed archeologist who's excavating a recently found Neanderthal burial site in present-day France—the latest novel by Claire Cameron is a compelling peek into the daily lives of two women in very different circumstances, but with startling similarities. Both headstrong, ambitious and, we soon learn, expecting, Girl and Rosamund are separated by millennia, but each experiences loneliness, pressure to succeed and the uncertainty
of an unplanned pregnancy.
Cameron says she has been fascinated by Neanderthals since she was a kid but, like most of us, believed they were “hairy, primitive knuckle-draggers” who perished because we are the superior race. But then, in 2010, new research upended our understanding of those early humans: Scientists found that some modern humans inherited DNA from Neanderthals. Homo sapiens didn't “out-evolve” Neanderthals—we interbred with them. It made her wonder how these species connected, and this novel is her imagined answer.
A provocative look at our earliest history, this book will stick with you. Girl and Rosamund aren't exactly the same, of course, but maybe that's the author's point: There's as much difference between these two humans as there is between any two people living right now, and just as much that's the same.
The Last Neanderthal (Doubleday Canada) by Claire Cameron, $30.