Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Reads: The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

I still remember that day...I was 9 years old and had just walked myself into the library and gotten myself my first library card.  Books were the only thing in the world that mattered to me and it was getting expensive to buy them all new in the drugstore of the small town we lived in.   I remember thinking to myself that if I could just read THICKER books that I could stay with a story for longer.  But YA fiction was rarely over 200 pages and I could read that in an hour or so (ahhh - to have that kind of reading time nowadays - sigh!). So, with a little excitement, I stepped around the shelves and entered the adult section.   Rows upon rows of 500+ page books, just waiting fo rme to devour them.

I realized I was too young to understand much of what was in the books with the women in bodices and the men with the flowing locks.   I just had to find something that looked like it would be a good story for me to immerse myself in.  It was then that I found Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear.  In hindsight, not the book for a nine year old, but I thought it looked like a good story about a little cave girl orphan.  I was right.  I devoured it as quickly as I could and then headed back to the library for the next one, Valley of the Horses...and then the next one, The Mammoth Hunters.  I realized parts of the books were smutty, but my desire for a good story kept me turning the pages and glossing over the racy details.  Years later, my mother read Clan of the Cave Bear and commented to me that had she known what the books were like, I NEVER would have been allowed to read them.  

It was after finishing the third book that I had to wait a very long time for the fourth, which came out when I was in my early teens.  Then the fifth was when I was in my mid-twenties.  Finally, this one, the sixth and final in the series, was released last month.  Somehow I had missed the boat on knowing in advance and was happily surprised when I went to buy vacation reads and it was right there on the home page!!!

It took me a bit to actually get to it and I would like to say it was worth the wait, but it really wasn't.  For the finally book in the series, it was a dry and tedious read.   Much of it completley lacked the colour of Auel's other books.  I even found myself questioning often if she had even written them or if the duty had been passed along to a much less talented lackey. It wasn't until Part Three that I could pick out Auel's narrative voice.   So disappointing.

The premise of the book is that Ayla is now deep in training to become a Zelandoni (healer/wise woman of the tribe).  Her "master" is the most important of these and wants her to tour all of the sacred places in their territory.  This means that they must travel from cave to cave to experience them and see their paintings.  Along the way, there are many opportunities for conflicts and adventures - very few of which materialize and then only those that can be wrapped up within the scope of this book.  Many loose strings are left as characters suddenly "walk off" (and those are avenues I think would have been worth exploring to keep it from being the sterile and boring read it was)

The thing that annoyed me most about the book was how repetitive the writing was.   A character would have two pages of thoughts about a subject and then there would be two pages of verbalizing the thoughts to another character and then another two pages of the otehr character marvelling about how in sync their thoughts were with those of the first character.  Same goes for all of the formal introductions.  If I had to endure one more introduction where everyone's full titles and connections were given, I was going to scream!   The storyline was relatively flat...the conflicts and human interaction of the past books was gone.  Potential crises were always built up and then quietly averted.  The conflicts just weren't there and conflicts are what makes a STORY interesting.  She also went deep into the minutae of daily tasks...spelling out exactly how a tallow lanp is fueled and lit EACH TIME one was used!

I'm sure Auel, who is famous for the amount of research that goes into her books, spent a great deal of time touring ancient caves and researching the heck out of them.  She just didn't spend a great deal of time thinking out how to write about caves while giving a reader more to sink their teeth into.  For a book that was 10 years in the making, I definitely had higher hopes.  Even if I had've read some of the reviews before buying the book, I probably still would have read it to get some closure on a series I have been following for most of my life.  I do think I need to re-read the first 5 books, though, to cleanse myself of this one and remind me of the brilliance of the series.

My verdict - not worth reading unless you have been following the series and want closure.  It was disappointing at best, but now it is done.  Any book that I finish with the exclaimations "Blech!  Really?!?! That's how you're going to end the frickin' series?!?!"  is probably not a good series ender.  My advice? Read at your own risk...you were warned.

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