I preparation for my ‘fifty classics reading challenge’. For pure training purpose here’s my attempt to write a critique for one of the books I’ve recently finished. Did a quick one on Goodreads. This one should be a bit more detailed.
Here we go:
Neandertal – Tal des Lebens by John Darnton (‘Neanderthal’, 1996)
Read the German translation, no translator mentioned in the book (disgusting !)
My translation of the text on the back of the book.
A famous scientific vanishes under mysterious circumstances in the Pamir region. His last sign of living was a parcel he sent. Containing the skull of a Neanderthal, extinct for 40.000 years. Miraculously the skull was only twenty-five years old. A forgery ? Or the confirmation of an unbelievable speculation – somewhere a tribe of hominids has survived.
Plot from Wikipedia:
The plot of Neanderthal revolves around two rival scientists, Matt Mattison and Susan Arnot, who are sent by the United States government to search for missing Harvard anthropologist James Kellicut. Their only clue is the skull of a Neanderthal. Carbon dating shows that the skull, which should be 40,000 years old, is suspiciously only 25 years old.
The Russian and American governments are competing to study the surviving Neanderthals in Tajikistan in order to learn more about their “remote viewing” capabilities. The Neanderthals are split into two tribes, a peaceful valley tribe and a cannibalistic and violent mountain tribe. Soon, the protagonists are captured by Neanderthals and must try to escape from the cannibals. They hope to do so without jeopardizing the safety of the peaceful tribe. It eventually, however, becomes necessary to train the peaceful tribe for war. The novel explains that a completely peaceful society like that was doomed in any case, and would have been destroyed soon by the mountain tribe.
What I liked about the book:
– it was an interesting story. A nice background story to start (enigma of Khodsant, no traces whatsoever on the web). The plot does not have any dull moments. Anything about the plot is, at least, imaginable. And it’s, for me, working. It could be.
– The two different tribes of the Neanderthals are imaginable, too.
What I didn’t like:
There are 2.5 sex scenes between the two main characters. Neither of them is necessary for the story. The half first one is as unbelievable as can be. It just doesn’t work for the character of the female protagonist. Can’t imagine it would work for any of the women that I know or knew, either. It’s just too unbelievable. At least the scenes aren’t porn.
There is suddenly a member of the Russian expedition coming to the rescue. Out of nowhere ? With two tribes that could sense your presence ? Just not believable.
The last scene with the professor. I don’t get it. As a famous scientist you should be remotely intelligent. In this scene the professor is nothing but committing suicide. Thinking several seconds about his plan he must have realized that he would be killed. There’s no other possibility. If his plan would have worked he would have condemned an ancient student, an ancient lover to be sacrificed. It might be in line with his character changes, but I can’t believe it. I simply can’t.
On ‘Goodreads’ I gave the book three stars. This still means ‘I like it’. Yes, I like it. But there are these mentioned flaws. I would not downgrade a book for unnecessary sex scenes. But the flaws are just a bit too much to give a higher rating.
Would I recommend this book to a friend ? Depends on the friend. If you just want something nice to read for a commute. OK, you might not regret it. I’m not regretting the time I spent with it. There won’t be a lasting impression, that’s all.