Rating: Loved (Hated-Disliked-Okay-Liked-Loved)
Back in 1980, Clan of the Cave Bear was published and was very, very popular. As often happens, when one book is that big of a best seller, more books of that type end up on bookstore shelves. Many of them don't live up to that original example, but some of them surpass it. Reindeer Moon is one of those that went well beyond its genre.
Reindeer Moon was published in 1987, and I read it sometime around then (scary to think that was nearly 30 years ago!). As I hadn't read it again since then, it was basically new to me.
The timeline in Reindeer Moon was handled in a way I haven't seen before, but loved: In chapter three, we learned the main character was dead, and so the book contained two timelines: The living character growing, maturing, and so moving towards her death, and the same character as a spirit slowly remembering her spirit life, moving back towards her 'birth' as one. At the end of the book, those two points converged. It was so interesting and effective!
I love this author and wish she had written many more books. She's a scientist, a naturalist, and an anthropologist, and that was so clear in her writing. The prehistoric world was so detailed and believable! I loved the people, the animals, and the settings in it. The tribe's spirit world was believable as well, and I loved how she handled the spirits and their interactions with the shamans.
While the plot of the book seems simple, I hadn't thought of it that way until I sat down now to describe it. A tribe of prehistoric hunters was on the move between their summer and winter camps, when one of the men got injured. The wound got infected, and he got a fever/became delusional, and so, thinking he was seeing spirits, the others left him behind. His two young daughters stayed with him. The father died, and so the two girls had to get home, through the winter, alone.
There was an interesting plotline about a mother wolf helping them (and how that wolf's son might have started people on the road to wanting to domesticate them), and lots of plot about social interactions in small groups. It's striking me as odd how hard it is for me to pin down what the plot was, yet the book was so richly detailed and interesting I couldn't stop reading it -- I left for work late and stayed up passed my bedtime to keep reading, I just couldn't put it down. It was more about the characters' day to day lives than about some grand plot happenings, and that was perfectly fine.
The one small, small detail about the book that I disliked was that everyone called sex "coitus". While Big Bang Theory didn't air until decades later, all I could hear was Sheldon saying it every time. Plus it's just an ugly word in general.
It's disappointing that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas only wrote three fiction books total (this one, its sequel which I'm reading next, and Certain Poor Shepherds: A Christmas Tale which looks interesting but sadly isn't available in ebook format). She wrote a number of ethology and anthropology books, but those don't really interest me).
When I read older books, I always worry the author is now dead. But happily, as of 2013, Thomas is still with us and publishing books.
Amusingly, thanks to reading on an ereader and thus never seeing the cover the whole time I was reading Reindeer Moon, I thought I was actually reading Reindeer People another post-Clan of the Cave Bear prehistoric people novel. I was all excited because I actually have a physical copy of Reindeer People, so I was going to take a picture of it for my post (I've never been able to supply my own picture before!). It's amusing that they have such similar names and conditions -- published in the 1980s, read and loved by me then, not read since then. Unfortunately Reindeer People isn't available as an ebook, and the text in the physical book is too small for me, so it will go unread for now.