Monday, May 9, 2011

What I'm Reading -- Prehistoric Edition

The Land of Painted Caves -- Jean M. Auel

Spoilers Abound!

I've always been a pretty precocious reader.  When I was about 10, I tackled Auel's classic, Clan of the Cave Bear.  I loved that book and to this day it remains one of my favorites.  It was brilliant.  I cared about the characters, I learned a lot about the prehistoric landscape, I thought the information on medicinal herbs was fascinating.  The book made me cry even back then.  Now that I am older, I understand a lot of what happened much better than I was when I was 10.  I've become a mother twice during that time as well and just thinking about the ending of the book brings a lump to my throat.  Actually reading it still makes me sob.

My mother forbid me to read the following book, Valley of Horses, so of course, 13-year-old me couldn't resist it.  Again, good story, lots of explicit sex (I get why my mother forbid it!), not too shabby.

Somewhere along the line, Ms. Auel jumped the shark.  Fast forward 25 years.  I'm a bit of a completionist when it comes to reading.  I even made it through all four Twilight books.  I can choke down damn near anything.

Even this mess.  The overall feeling I had while reading this was, "Where the hell was this woman's editor?"  It felt like she was writing from a template.  Pages and pages of repetition.  Yes, we know.  The Zelandonii have long introductions.  Good lord, woman, do you actually to write them out every single time they happen?  Everything (and I do mean everything) was re-explained over and over.  Ayla meets people.  They are blown away by horses and wolf.  She introduces them to horses and wolf.  She cures someone.  She loves Jondalar.  Jondalar loves her.  Begin long soliloquy about how far he traveled and how many people they met and blah blah blah.  I ceased to care two books ago.

And let me tell you, if you have seen one painted cave, you have seen them all.  I imagine in person they are pretty spectacular.  I went to see the Lucy exhibit when it came to the Pacific Science Center.  I know how overwhelming and powerful it is to be face to face with history like that.  But reading page upon page of description.... I was skipping ahead and skimming, trying to get to some sort of story.  But it wasn't there.  Just a bunch of people I had ceased to care about walking all over ancient France looking at cave after cave after cave.  It felt more like a research paper, and not even a very well-written one.

Oh wait, part three had some story.  But it felt tacked on, an afterthought.  And if you've read The Mammoth Hunters then you already know the story.  I'll give you a hint. The books end in the exact same way.   Just substitute your favorite Zelandonii names for the Mamutoi names and they are exactly the same.  I mean, really, Ms. Auel.   I did the math.  I know you are 75 years old now.  But if you can't come up with something new, why bother?  Wouldn't it have been better to just leave the series as it was?  And it's not as if there was every any sort of resolution.  There are still a bunch of pieces left hanging.  I'm wondering if the series is going to be picked up and carried on by other writers, a la Flowers in the Attic.

I thought it was sad to leave the series on such a low note, when it had started out so promising.  I had some ideas of where I thought it could have gone and how she could have redeemed herself.  I had hoped that other things might have happened.  I would have liked to go back and explore the Clan some more since that's where all the most interesting things happened.  But it was not to be.  My regrets, but I'm recommending skipping this one and treating yourself to a re-reading of Cave Bear.


  1. I was so disappointed in the way that series turned sour and it sure was a lack of editing or something... I've often imagined how embarrassed Auel must have become, but perhaps not.

    Suspect original editor died or changed houses and they substituted someone young and inexperienced.

  2. I was wondering if she just had such a big head that she was able to bully any potential editor ("Don't you know who I AM?!?!?"), or they knew that people would read the book regardless of how they turned out. I also wonder if she received so much praise previously for her descriptions, research, etc. that she thought that people were dying for more of it. I'm sure I'll never know, but I have my theories. Can't imagine she's too embarrassed, I'm sure she's rolling in dough.