In the culmination of this prehistoric cult-like historical fiction series, Ayla fulfills her destiny and Jane Auel lovingly puts to rest the family she created in 1980 and has nurtured ever since. The Land of Painted Caves, published by Random House, releases March 29, 2011.
Author Jean Auel began her extensive research on prehistoric Europe and the interactions of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal people in 1977. Wanting to ensure that her background details were as accurate as possible, she consulted extensively with French archeologists and spent time at the excavation site, Grotte Seize, upon which she based the Ninth Cave of the Zeladonai. An expert on the Ice Age, she writes clearly about its environmental and anthropological ramifications. Her knowledge of botany and herbs is impressive.
In part I of III, Ayla, acolyte to the healers named Zelandonii, tours their sacred places (painted caves) with her husband, Jondalar and newborn daughter, Jonayla, as part of her training to become a spiritual leader of the Ninth Cave. Five years have passed when we reach Part II. Ayla spends time away from family to perform her healing duties. She sets off through on another tour of caves. In Part III, Ayla finishes her training as an acolyte. A conflict between Ayla and Jondalar and the appearance of a potential cave wrecker provide interesting plot twists. All are enlightened by a final verse from the “Mother’s Song” which explains how conception happens.
Ayla, the woman who can do anything (except sing on key), is still inventing in this book. She can create a morning-after drink to follow a night of carousing, roast savory meat in the ground and make a hands-free berry-picking basket.
Even devotees of the Earth’s Children Series may want to lower expectations as they read. You may not be deterred by the multitude of characters introduced by page 20, but you will soon discover that the driving force in this book is not plot or character growth, but description. The author, a master of prehistoric life, doses up a great supply of it. That may be rewarding enough for those with little knowledge of that time, but this reviewer yearned for more.
For 500 pages we slog through caves, endless interpersonal introductions, and narratives on prehistoric life. The graphic sex scenes from the earlier novels reappear. Rehearsed and re-rehearsed are the implications of the “Gift of Pleasures.” Plot and resolution emerge toward the end of the book, but the reader’s patience is tried in waiting for them. A deeper study of the relationship between Ayla and Jondalar would be a welcome addition. Jonayla’s character development could have been a fascinating nugget but is glossed over. To the author’s credit, she has created Ayla, probably the first woman to work outside the home. Her heretofore one-dimensional character finally becomes human and Ayla actually makes some mistakes at the end of the book.
Complaints abound from reviewers about tedious repetition and recaps from Auel’s earlier novels inserted in this new release. Agreed, the recaps are repeated, but perhaps the author fully intended to remind us of some of the events in her earlier novels. People watch favorite movies over and over for a feeling of nostalgia and comfort. Why not relive favorite books, especially if published as a series with years in between books? Furthermore, not all readers of The Land of Painted Caves have followed the series from the beginning. For the reader’s perusal:
Book descriptions at Random House
The Clan of the Cave Bear, 1980
The Valley of Horses, 1982
The Mammoth Hunters, 1985
The Plains of Passage, 1990
The Shelters of Stone, 2002
The Land of Painted Caves, 2011
However, let us distinguish between intentional, helpful recaps, and repetition which begs for an editor’s red pencil. Had the dialogue been cut in half, the plot may have picked up a bit. This reviewer grew weary of the redundancy of characters introducing themselves to each other over and over. Excerpts of the “Mother’s Song” thrown in to comment on a cave painting seemed superfluous and annoying. Even more boring were the constant tea-making scenes.
Yet, we come away from the book with a vivid picture of everyday prehistoric life. Barma is an alcoholic drink fermented from birch sap. A water bag is made from a carefully washed deer stomach stopped up with a multi-knotted thong. Ms. Auel knows how to write everyday realism, but she doesn’t seem to know when to stop.
This series has a devoted following who may be willing to overlook the novel’s shortcomings for the pleasure of revisiting old friends. With due respect to a legendary author, regretfully, this final book in the Earth’s Children Series failed on several levels. It is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the least successful in the series. Needed: Fewer caves and more plot.Powered by Sidelines