Unfortunate ending

Cover of The Land of Painted Caves75. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

This is not going to be the only fairly negative review of this book out there. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it over the past few days who’s read it seems to agree that it’s very repetitive and disappointing. Personally I really can’t think of anything it even really adds to the story of Ayla‘s life that wasn’t to be expected from the end of the previous book. Admittedly I haven’t read The Shelters of Stone in about a decade, (ie I read it once shortly after it came out in 2002), but at the end of that book Ayla and Jondalar had made it back to his people after a long and unusual journey, had had their matrimonial and then the birth of their daughter, and they were settling down to stable positions within the 9th Cave of the Zelandonii, he as a master flint knapper, she as new acolyte (trainee) to the local high priestess. They missed the friends made along their journey, but didn’t expect to see any who didn’t come looking for them ever again. They were deeply in love, but as two very intense, talented and admired people from very different backgrounds were still capable of deep misunderstandings.

So the new book adds another six years to the tale, but I don’t personally think it includes anything not to be easily anticipated from that, except the rather bizarre implication that as a highly unusual and capable woman who’s fought against conventions she didn’t agree with all her life, Ayla is the one who’s going to eventually (over generations at least) and unintentionally turn a fairly equal matriarchy where jealousy is one of the worst crimes into a controlling ┬ápatriarchy.

My impression is that Auel felt she was shadowing the climax of The Mammoth Hunters, but it’s such a straight copying of the storyline that I was bored by it. Not quite so bored as by the constant repetition of all the verses of the Earth Mother song that I kept skipping. Realistically that should have appeared no more than once in the story text, with a brief refrain of a couple of lines some (but definitely not all) of the times, with perhaps the whole thing from start to finish put as an appendix at the beginning or end of the book. Were we supposed to be learning the thing by heart the way Ayla had to?

Basically this book was crying out for a good editor’s red pen (or equivalent) to just cut out vast swathes of the book, including some of the step-by-step paths through every painted cave the author ever got to visit/sent her characters to see, as well as the reminders of stuff that happened in earlier books that wasn’t relevant to this one at all. Obviously in any series where the reader may not be familiar with the previous volumes lately or at all there have to be reminders of things that happened before, but in my opinion these should be strictly limited to what is important to the events of the current work.

I kept reading to the end because I was really expecting all this to lead to something unexpected, and for me it really really didn’t. I simply feel that as a finale to the series this book added little or nothing, and wasn’t worth the nine-year wait.

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3 Responses to “Unfortunate ending”

  1. knotrune Says:

    Disappointing, but I have to say, not a surprise from the Shelters of Stone, which I felt could have been a good deal shorter from a story point of view. It seemed to have turned into a vehicle for the religious stuff and the food p0rn! I’m not surprised by Ayla being the vehicle for negative change, that has been set up long back with her idea that babies came from men. Glad I didn’t rush out and buy this, I shall stick with my original plan and borrow it from the library as and when I see it…

    • kaet Says:

      I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I’d agree that Auel does set things up well – I don’t think she really needs to lay it on quiteso thick, however.

  2. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

    I agree with all you’ve written here, Kaet. A good editor was what was needed and it’s like Auel ran out of omph.
    Actually, I was disappointed in Shelters of Stone, too.

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