The Last Neanderthal was not only an entertaining story but encourages a reader to reconsider the experiences of living 40,000 years ago. It helps to reconsider history and understand new discoveries following the sequencing of neanderthal DNA in 2010. Readers can ponder the challenges of survival and gain a new respect for neanderthals.
With all the advertisements for DNA testing, Cameron discovered that she had 2.5% neanderthal DNA. This led her to research beyond the colonial narrative of human evolution which deigned neanderthals as primitive and humans as evolved. In fact, she discovered that neanderthals and humans were similar and co-evolved. She started to write an interesting story, underpinned by research and science.
Cameron used her love of the outdoors and canoeing in Northern Ontario as inspiration for the setting and her experience as an Outward Bound instructor to channel the theme of survival. Interestingly she has included bears in all 3 of her novels including: The Line Painter, The Bear (best seller) and The Last Neanderthal.
Her husband is usually her first reader and felt that this was the best book she had ever written but asked her to consider whether she meant the neanderthals to speak like english was their second language? For her third draft she worked with a scientist who helped her find all the areas that her “science was soft”. He assigned her readings and she used his notes like a “creative constraint”.
For her modern story, she spoke with women in science about the challenges of balancing their families with field work. Her own challenging delivery of her second child who arrived with the cord wrapped around his neck, helped her describe the terror she experienced and the feeling of being one with the women who have delivered babes for 40,000 years.
I had delayed my reading of The Last Neanderthal which I had been lucky to win as an advanced reader copy from Penguin Random House (thank you!). As much as I wanted to read it right away, I delayed so that the book was fresh in my mind for the Grimsby Author Series. It was a great evening and I was able to encourage the author to write a sequel as I was not ready for the story to end and am still wondering what is next for the characters.