I finally got it finished. After a very hectic day, its done and dusted. I woke on Tuesday and made a very deliberate decision that come what may, I was finishing that damned book. I only had circa 50 pages left, nothing to me is that. I read books in two days sometimes. Very rarely does a book take longer than a week to read. But this one, it was released on 29th March and I had it the day after. Its taken about 3 weeks and has been purgatory. What am I talking about?
The Land Of Painted Caves, Jean M Auel.
The final chapter in a series named Earths Children. The first book, Clan Of The Cave Bear, was released in 1980, so its been 31 years in the making and to be honest, the way it has finished has been a major disappointment to me.
I read the first book in Canada in ’88. I was alone all week, working, and wanted something to occupy my mind in the evenings once I had showered and eaten. I didn’t like television back then either and still feel the same way about it. So I looked over the book shelf and found Clan Of The Cave Bear. Hmm, right up my street, nearly. I love historical epics as well as sci-fi. So this was all about the survival of man during the Ice Age.
Basic plot: Heroine is orphaned at 5 and is raised by “Flatheads” what we would know as Neanderthals. It’s all about her battle to adapt to a different race of people and some of the ways she survives in the harsh environment. I found it engrosing and a very enjoyable read. Slowly but surely, I have read the other 4 books as I have found them with my regular sojourns into book shops and all in all, I have enjoyed the series and was so pleased to hear of a release date for the last instalment. So far, we have Ayla [heroine] who meets Jondolar [hero] and their exploits in survival. They finally have a child, Jonayla, and three horses, Whinney, Racer and Grey, and a wolf [Wolf]. All the animals have been raised for infants by Ayla and love her as much as she loves them. There was also a lion cub, Baby, but he went back to the wild in book 3 or 4, cant be sure of which.
After an arduous journey, Ayla and Jondolar arrive at the Zelandonii territories, where Jondolar was raised and the final book is all about how their lives changed due to living with a cave of 200 odd people. Jean creates her usual intricate settings and describes the landscapes, the cave paintings, ceremonies with great detail and accuracy. After reading 5 times that Jondolar has deep blue eyes, the colour of glacial ice, I think that too much time and effort goes into all the descriptions. The first five books have been full of incidents, failings, challenges, successes, discoveries, and more and always left me wanting more. Sadly, in my opinion, the final book fails to deliver. It peters out rather boringly when you expect it to go out with less of a whimper. I felt that describing the construction of a lodge or travelling tent was only required once to understand it, not at any given point on a journey to somewhere.
Even the bad guys seem lessened in this book. Ayla has met some very dubious people in her journey across Ice Age Europe and has suffered plenty. But the less than favourable characters in The Land Of Painted Caves just about make some form of impact on the story. But the level of threat, compared to the other 5 books, is minimal and doesn’t leave an impression with the reader. We are presented with another episode of a lovers tiff between Ayla and Jondolar, which goes the exact same way as in The Mammoth Hunters, only with role reversal. I do believe that they would have both learnt a lesson about poor communication in that book, only for it to be repeated.
I am not sure how many adjectives you can find to describe a cave painting. Having had to read through endless descriptions, I think I now know how and why these effigies exist and that whoever made them was obviously skilled at what they did.
There also seemed to me, to be a rather large jump in time. Reading of the birth of their first child, then finding yourself reading about a four-year old child is slightly odd.
If I read the Mothers Song, one more time, I think I could recite it backwards. I lost count of how many times that is mentioned and gone into with depth. Maybe that was my imagination?
I also lost count of how many times Ayla defends the ‘Flatheads’ and explains they are people, just different, and not animals, like some describe them as. If you read that Iza, Aylas surrogate mother, was a medicine woman, would you require that description every time she was mentioned? Or Creb, the Clans Mog-ur [witch doctor/spiritual leader] described again and again.
My personal opinion is. Jean M Auel had some illness over the last few years, which could explain the excruciating length of time between books in this series. During that time, maybe she lost her way a little and then struggled to get it back. I am not sure the exact length of time between book 5 and book 6, but its a long time. The first three books were all released in the 1980’s. The last three books took 21 years to complete. 12 years between book 4 and 5 and 9 years between book 5 and book 6 has had a great effect on the series.
I am pleased that Jean was finally able to complete the series, but I have to admit I have been left somewhat deflated by the final book. I have stuck with this series for 23 years and to s read the final book was a huge effort, not very enjoyable and I feel kind of cheated in a way.
Read as a one-off, you might enjoy the book. I doubt you could fully understand the character though as they are developed over a long period of time. As a final book in the series, for followers, disappointing is probably an understatement.
A great explanation of what the series about if you do wish to know more.