Well, if you think my numbering system is off, you’re right. I read this book back in February and somehow forgot to log it. I only realized my mistake a couple of days ago, while reading the original Sherlock Holmes stories.
The book overall was not bad. The writing was so-so, a bit conventional, and I can’t say the main character was that convincing. But I liked the idea: a novel about Arthur Conan Doyle set at the time when he has just killed off Sherlock Holmes because he’s sick of him. The reading public doesn’t take too kindly to this: an obituary is published in newspapers, people wear black armbands in the street, and Doyle is berated publicly.* Amidst all this, he has to solve a mystery with his best friend, Bram Stoker.
This historical plot line is intertwined with one set in the present: a top Sherlock Holmes scholar, Alex Cale, is killed, just as he is about to announce that he has found the lost diary of Doyle. (This is obviously based on the real-life story of renowned Holmes scholar Richard Lancelyn Green. Read David Grann’s excellent essay on this here with a subscription, or read it in The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.) Harold White, literary researcher, Sherlock fanatic, and newly inducted member of the Baker Street Irregulars, goes on a search to find both the diary and Cale’s murderer.
I enjoyed this book overall, but mainly it just made me want to read the original Holmes stories for the first time. Happily, I am doing so now.
*When I was young and asked my mother who Sherlock Holmes was, she told me that he was a great detective who was addicted to opium. So I figured that anyone flawed enough to develop an addiction to drugs MUST be real, right? It took several years for me to realize that he was, in fact, a fictional character.
[#53_2.1.11–2.9.11; books read after this date have been re-numbered]
I read the first three chapters and then lost my will to read anything ever again. I am not exaggerating — it was that terrible. Lesson learned = Harlequins are not for me.
I think this is the book that distracted me from finishing the previous two. A coworker had recommended this to me, and it seemed the perfect distraction from two pretty serious books. I had never heard of the Earth’s Children series before, and I didn’t realize there was a movie based on the book. I was really missing out.
A Cro-Magnon child, Ayla, is orphaned after her parents are killed in a natural disaster. Left to fend for herself, she wanders for days and is found nearly dead by a group of Neanderthals. The premise of the book is that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons coexisted at a certain point in time and in certain regions, and Ayla is caught between the two groups. The Neanderthal family she grows up with is all that she knows, yet she will always be an outsider.
This book was great. Sure, it’s speculative fiction and Auel may actually have been wrong about somethings. (Like the claim that Neanderthals couldn’t talk and so had to rely on sign language — this view wasn’t contradicted until after the book was written.) But it is so well researched and detailed in its portrayal of what life could have been like so many thousands of years ago that’s its a wonder to read.
HOWEVER, at the same time, this attention to detail is exhausting. When I finished the book, I did not care about the medicinal properties of ANY plants, and I certainly did not need to hear about the layer of subcutaneous fat in animals. So, while I look forward to reading the series to see what happens to Ayla, I think it will probably be a while before I move on to the next book.
I liked it overall, but found the story to be just too fantastic to be considered realistic. This kept distracting me while I read it and I suppose I didn’t find the writing great enough to overcome this (though it was by no means bad). But, suspending my disbelief, it is a good story, though harrowing (especially any scene involving a ship).
I liked the classical history aspect of this — Aristotle goes to Macedon to tutor Alexander (soon to be the Great), son of the king. I think I also enjoyed the writing. I certainly had no problem with the cover.