Women on the Shelf – The Gathering Night

The Gathering Night by Margaret Elphinstone (368 pages)

Reviewed by A W Donovan

I have always loved historical novels and found The Gathering Night gripping and a joy to read. It is set in the Mesolithic era, approx. 8000 yrs ago , and describes the lives of hunter gatherers.

The story unfolds through the voices of the main characters, male, female, young and old. The characters live in family groups within a tribal structure.

The balance of the family is important requiring enough hunters to supply meat for the family while women and children supply fish, berries etc. These people are in tune with nature and their calendar is based on the moons and seasons e.g .Yellow Leaf Moon, Swan Moon, Seed Moon.

The families move to different camps throughout the year following food sources in hospitable locations. All families meet at The Gathering Night when the new members are introduced to the tribe, extended families regroup, old friendships are rekindled, matches between couples are made.

The central theme of this novel concerns an outside , Kemen, joining the Auk people and his acceptance within the tribe. He then alienates some tribal members taking a wife, Osane, who herself has lost her voice due to trauma within her birth family.

The equilibrium and laws of the tribe are enforced by the Go Betweens. These are respected elders who conduct ceremonies and resolve problems between the tribal members. At the Gathering Night the Go Betweens right the wrongs in the community and issue the ultimate punishment, death for those commiting the greatest violations against the tribe`s moral code.

At the end of the novel, I was aware how our Western lives are no longer governed by nature except when snow disrupts travel, limited water shortages etc. These Mesolithic people were truly adapted to their environment.

I both enjoyed and learned a lot from this novel.

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