The Cleft: Doris Lessing

★★★

Doris Lessing is an author who’s always intimidated me, simply by virtue of having won the Nobel Prize and thereby, obviously, being a Great Name. I’ve been shilly-shallying over The Golden Notebook for the past few years, so when I stumbled across this curious book in a charity shop, I thought it could be an interesting way in. And, oh, it’s a very odd thing: part fantasy, part fable, part allegory. It focuses on the Clefts: a primitive society of parthenogenic women who only ever give birth to female children. And then, one day, a monstrous creature is born with horribly deformed genitals. The Clefts expose it, as they do all damaged infants, but then more of these Monsters are born and, before long, the Clefts find themselves struggling against the rise of a new population, who are so similar to them and yet so horrifyingly, incomprehensibly different: men.

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The Mammoth Hunters: Jean M. Auel

★★½

Earth’s Children: Book III

As we embark on the third book in Ayla’s story, we pick up the narrative thread exactly where we left it. At the end of The Valley of Horses we left Ayla and Jondalar at the moment in which they are hailed by a hunting party; here we see the group approach and make their introductions. They are Mamutoi – Mammoth Hunters – and invite the young couple to visit their settlement, the Lion Camp. As she follows them, Ayla is torn between curiosity and fear, as these are the first Others she has seen except for Jondalar; but her anxiety will prove to have no foundation. She will find not only new friends among the Mamutoi but also a persistent and attractive new admirer.

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The Valley of Horses: Jean M. Auel

★★★

Earth’s Children: Book II

It’s time for the second instalment of Ayla’s adventures: a book that significantly broadens out the world which was introduced to us in The Clan of the Cave Bear. Here we finally glimpse cultures beyond those of the Clan, but we also spend much more time with Ayla, watching as circumstances force her to make leaps of intuition ever more daring and more successful. I can’t say this novel was quite as smooth going as the first, but towards the end something clicked and I now find myself eager to head on to the third. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Spoilers will follow, so proceed with caution.

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The Clan of the Cave Bear: Jean M. Auel

★★★★

Earth’s Children: Book I

In our first years at secondary school, one of my classmates was much taken with the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel. I remember being very impressed by the thick novels she was carrying around, and decided that I would have to read the books myself one day. And now, twenty years later, I’ve finally got round to it. In the aftermath of The Inheritors, I decided it was time to make a start on this other famous story about contact between Neanderthal man and the new race of Homo sapiens.

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The Inheritors: William Golding

★★★★

In September last year, the Guardian published an article by Judy Golding (William’s daughter) about The Inheritors. I read it at the time but only recently tracked it down again. I already want to reread so I can savour the complexities that I missed first time round. But even my quick first read of the article lodged the title in my mind. When I saw a lovely old Faber & Faber edition in Oxfam a few weeks ago, I snaffled it.

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