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Monday, April 6, 2009

Neanderthal



First of all I'd like to say that John Darton is a damn good writer, which is most important because this is a work of fiction. His prose flows smoothly, he's great at matching sentence structure to the emotions he's conveying, and each chapter ends with a question that keeps you reading on to the next instead of using the ol' bookmark for a break.

Having said that, if you're a real anthropology or archeology buff like I am, you may be disappointed. I myself, despite my historic bent, was only slightly disappointed, and would have given this book three and a half stars if Amazon would let me (many books I've given four stars to only deserve three and a half, and I rounded down; unfortunately for Darnton this review comes as I'm realizing how overstocked my four star reviews have become).

But, obviously from many of the reviews I see of the book on this page, most of my fellow history buffs do not agree.

The problem is that if you know alot about Neanderthals, your suspension of disbelief is seriously threatened about half-way through the book when the main characters start interacting with the neanderthals.
However, I am not altogether sure that this is a result of poor research. For most of the first half, Darnton does show a dated but still relevent knowledge of Neanderthal man as known to the educated layman, who has taken modern college level anthropology and history and who watches the occasional current PBS or Discovery Channel special on the subject (which, I might add, is the knowledge a writer needs to have and cling to when he's writing for the general public, as opposed to when he's writing for scientists). He mixes fictinional finds with actual finds well enough that he'll have you Googling them to find out which are the real.

But when the Neanderthals are actually met, the good research seems to go out the window. I suspect, however, that this is not entirely the case; Darnton seems to be using wild theories and speculations as a devise to convey an ideal and to perpetuate the myth of the noble savage. Unfortunately, his anything but mainstream theories are left unexplained and unsupported, creating either the evidence or the illusion of ignorance.

Is this the editors or the author's fault?

It's disarming to suggest agriculture before hunting and gathering. Got to explain it if you wanna have it in your book. The Neanderthals were NOT vegetarians and NOT pacifistic; got to explain why yours are if you wanna have it in your book. And if a group of neanderthals break off from the main population RECENTLY and become cannibalistic again, reverting to the VERY ritualistic practices supposedly left behind 30,000 years ago, then you gotta tell us why and how they rediscovered those. He could have at least hinted that the Neanderthals brains were able to remember their ancestor's memories to explain himself, like Aule did, if he's not going to have them find something that clues them in to their former violent selves, but the writer fails to even do that. These are only a few of the problems which irk those who know alot about neanderthals.

I realize that alot of readers get bored when the writer goes on too much about the history of characters, or explains in detail why some aspect of the thinking or philosophy in a novel is present. That's why I'm giving the author the benefit of the doubt; the editor may have dumbed it down for the "I don't want to know" public, and if he did so he should have realized that this book appeals to a diffenent niche made up of those who "have to know" in order to suspend disbelief.

To most people, it looks like the author really believes that Neanderthals could survive all this time in the mountains without being able to defend themselves in the least. Like he really believes that the killing machine that is Neanderthal could become a super-wuss despite his instinct (whether trained or experienced in fighting or not, a Neanderthal would not be clumsy and would not have the least bit of problem destroying even the greatest UFC Fighter in the world with his bare hands, unlike Darnton's unbeleivably pacifistic Neanderthals). Like he believes that agriculture really came before hunting, etc. etc.
I caution that this might not be the case, and that Darnton may have known that these things weren't true, and either originally had an explanation or purposely kept the explanation shrouded in mystery.



Did Darnton expand upon these ideas only to have an editor dumb it down for us? I really hope so, cuz other than leaving us in the dark with a broken suspension of disbelief on these topics, the guy rocks as a writer. Comment | Permalink
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