Since Hedon brought up Ayla and “The Clan of the Cave Bear,” I thought I’d put in a few good words for a hidden gem of an older novel, “Reindeer Moon,” by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas.
I’ve read all the books with that inventor extraordinaire, Ayla. The first book in the series is okay, but the rest, they just get worse as they go along. It’s enough to make me wonder why I’ve read them. I think it’s because once I get started in a series, it’s nearly impossible for me to stop. I’ll probably read the next one, too, should the old gal finish it before she dies.
But back in the day when I first read “The Clan of the Cave Bear,” I enjoyed it enough that it prompted an interest in me to read more novels set in pre-history. By the time I was done, I think I’d pretty much read everything there was to offer on that front. Unlike the Ayla books, which center around Ayla not fitting in, these other novels tended to focus on some good guy trying to save his/her tribe from some bad guy/gal. Once I’d had enough of that, I stopped seeking out the pre-history novels.
It wasn’t too terribly long after my loss of interest in the genre, that a friend gave me a worn-out paperback titled “Reindeer Moon.” She told me that it was set during the last great Ice Age, and that she knew I liked that sort of book, so there ya go. I left it lying around my house for a month or so until one boring Saturday I decided to give it a try. The book had me hooked right away.
The story is beautifully told by a woman named Yanan. She tells of her life as a child, a young woman, and as a spirit held to her lodge by a powerful shaman. It’s one of those stories that hangs with you long after you have finished. To consign this novel to the pre-history genre with novels like “The Clan of the Cave Bear,” is akin to saying “Pride and Prejudice” is a romance novel. “Reindeer Moon” transcends its genre.
I would not wish to give away too much of the story, on the off chance that some of you might try it. I will say that for weeks afterwards, I could not look at the fields and woods of home as I once had. Ultimately, though, it’s not just about survival in a harsh world, it’s about what it means to be human, to be imperfect, and about our need for the release of forgiveness. This isn’t a book you just read and then move on. It’s a book that stays with you, and you find yourself thinking about it occasionally, even years afterwards.
The author is an anthropologist who had spent many years studying and living with nomadic, hunter-gatherer peoples, and you can sense that surety behind her words. Marshall Thomas’ second novel, “Animal Wife,” is also set in the same period, and is a sequel of sorts, but not really. It is a good book, but does not approach the power of “Reindeer Moon.” I believe she has since written only non-fiction.
Last time I checked, this novel had long gone out of print, and can only be gotten from used booksellers. I’m actually surprised that this gem of a novel has been left unnoticed. I felt sure, when I read it, that somebody in some English department somewhere would discover it and champion some recognition for it. This does not appear to be the case, however. It’s very disappointing to me.
All I can add is that if you find yourself looking for a remarkable read, see if you can find a copy of “Reindeer Moon.” It’s a winner.