The Gathering Night by Margaret Elphinstone

Read: 31 October, 2010

One night, Bakar disappeared. His family is left alone, with only an old man to hunt for them. But then a stranger appears with a story of a great wave that killed his people, and this sets in motion a series of interweaving stories, told by the many voices of the People.

Set in prehistoric Scotland, The Gathering Night is a story about survival, as well as a community’s attempts to heal itself after a tragedy.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but to compare this novel to Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series. I think it might be blasphemy to say this, but I found that Elphinstone actually did a better job. Both authors try to convey a lot of “land knowledge” in their books, explaining the various things that can be eaten for example. But while Auel simply lists them in page after page of plant names, Elphinstone builds it right into the story.

The story itself is captivating. I’ve been very critical of books with multiple narrators in the past, but it works in this case. The set up for telling the story is plausible, and the narrative voices are distinct enough to feel like the story is really being told by several different people (but not so much that it feels like a gimmick).

All in all, I’d say this is a very worthwhile read. It preserves all off the appeal of prehistoric novels while avoiding many of the flaws.

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