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Jean M. Auel – The Land of Painted Caves

June 13, 2011

75. The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel (2011)
Earth’s Children, Book 6

Read my review of book:
5. The Shelters of Stone

Length: 758 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 29 May 2011
Finished: 02 June 2011

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I’ve been reading the Earth’s Children series for more than half my life at this point; of course I’m going to push through to the end.

Hey! Did you know that
France has painted caves? Lots and
lots and lots of caves.

Summary: Ayla’s training as a Zelandoni, One Who Serves the Mother, begins in earnest. A major part of that training is the Donier Tour, on which Ayla must visit the painted caves which are the most sacred sites of the Great Mother. Ayla is interested in the knowledge that the zelandonia have to impart, but the training often keeps her away from Jondalar, and their young daughter, Jonayla, for too long at a time. Can she balance the demands of her calling and the Gifts of the Mother with the realities of family life? Or will the pressures of her training swallow any hope of having a normal life?

Review: Confession time: I don’t actually read Jean Auel’s books. I suspect that if I actually did sit down and try to read every word, the endless descriptions and repetitions would soon frustrate me to the point of pitching the book across the room, and I don’t want to break any windows. Instead, I skim, looking for dialogue, proper names, action verbs, and any passage that catches my eye as more interesting than its surroundings.

And, I have to say, I don’t think I missed much. This book could be shortened by at least 10% just by cutting out every time that a familiar character gives their formal ties as part of an introduction. I won’t even get into the number of times that Auel presents the Mother’s song in full (these are at least indented and so easy to skip while skimming), the number of people who remark on Ayla’s accent, the number of cups of tea that are made (in elaborate detail as to the cooking process), the details about how to hunt, butcher, and cook large Ice Age mammals, etc.

There’s also the issue of the painted caves. The first 500-odd pages are primarily involved with Zelandoni taking Ayla on a tour of *all* of France’s painted caves. I have a standing interest in cave art, but even so, I found this book’s level of description to be a bit excessive. I read much of this section with the Wikipedia page for the relevant cave open on my laptop, so I could see the paintings that Auel was going to great lengths to describe. If you believe the cliché, Auel uses her thousand words per picture (and then some); I think I would have been better served just reading a dedicated photographic guide to the caves.***

Surprisingly, in the last 200 pages or so, this book actually does develop somewhat of a plot. (Especially shocking after The Shelters of Stone made it through 800 pages with no such occurrence.) Granted, it’s a plot that’s recycled more-or-less intact from The Mammoth Hunters, but after spending the previous 500 pages looking at paintings, it’s at least interesting by comparison. Also surprising in this final installment, compared to previous books, is the relative lack of on-screen sex scenes (only two that I noticed), as well as the fact that Ayla refrains from inventing any more of the major advances in human civilization. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you slogged through The Shelters of Stone, then The Land of Painted Caves should breeze by… although it’s definitely worth going to find some actual pictures of the caves rather than relying entirely on Auel’s lengthy descriptions.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

A very thorough guide to some of the caves Auel mentions (and others.)
Jean M. Auel drinking game!

***In a nice bit of synchronicity, a few days after I finished this book, a friend asked me if there was anything happening over the weekend. I pulled up the local events calendar, and the first thing I saw was a 3D showing of “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams“, a documentary about Chauvet Cave (which is the oldest painted cave ever discovered, remarkably well preserved, and according to Auel, the “The Great Earth Mother’s Most Ancient Sacred Site”.) Luckily, my friend is equally nerdy about such things, so we totally spent our Friday night watching a movie about caves. And it was fascinating. Factually, it didn’t tell me a lot that I didn’t already know, but viscerally, it gave me a much better sense of what it’s like inside the painted caves than I could ever have gotten from even the nicest 2D photos. If you’re at all interested, it’s well worth the extra $3 for the 3D showing.

Other Reviews: Curious Book Fans, Val’s Random Comments
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: The band of travellers walked along the path between the clear sparkling water of Grass River and the black-streaked white limestone cliff, following the trail that paralleled the right bank.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2011 8:09 am

    No, I was NOT aware that France has a lot of caves. :)

    • June 13, 2011 1:27 pm

      Care – Well, now you are! Did I mention that there are lots of caves? Because there are. Lots of caves. :)

  2. June 13, 2011 1:05 pm

    I did know France has painted caves. They discovered some news one while we lived there. Since I never started this series, I don’t think I’ll pick this book up.

    • June 13, 2011 1:28 pm

      Kathy – Were you living there in ’94-’95? That’s when they discovered Chauvet cave, which is pretty spectacular and I would imagine quite newsworthy. You’d probably get a kick out of the Cave of Forgotten Dreams documentary, since it might look like familiar ground to you…

  3. June 13, 2011 8:56 pm

    Do you often only read parts of a book? Myself, I think its hard to have an opinion of a book unless you read the whole thing. I feel that if you are going to judge someone’s work, you owe to to them to read the whole thing.

    • June 14, 2011 9:50 am

      Cela – I have to say, I disagree with your premise that I should be reading every word of a book before offering an opinion/writing a review, both in this specific case, and in general.

      As I said in my review, in the case of Jean Auel’s books, the sections that I wind up skimming are those that are repeating things from earlier in the book or in the series – I’ve already read the Mother’s song once, I don’t need to read it in its entirety every hundred pages. Skipping these sorts of things actually increased my enjoyment of the book rather than decreased it.

      I also disagree that I somehow “owe” an author my time to read every word they’ve put on paper before I’m able to give an opinion on their work. I can formulate an opinion of a book before I finish it, and if that opinion is “I don’t like this enough to read any more of it,” I think that’s perfectly valid as long as I’m upfront about what I did or did not actually read. It’s not something that I do often (and is not applicable in this case; I did read to the end), but it does happen.

  4. June 14, 2011 12:24 pm

    Your review makes me feel better about how long it’s taken me to slog through the first book in the series. I have an old beat up copy that I read during bubble baths (because it’s one of the few books I don’t care enough about to be upset if it were to fall in the tub). I’ve been reading it in the tub for over a year and still am not halfway through (granted I don’t get bubble baths that often). I may have to employ your skimming methods to speed things up a bit. :)

    • June 15, 2011 1:16 pm

      Alyce – My friend (who’s also read books 1-5) and I joke that as long as you’re able to describe from memory how Creb likes his ptarmigan cooked, then you’ve read enough to start skimming. :)

  5. June 14, 2011 6:10 pm

    A long while back (when I was in high school or earlier) I read the first two in the series and then my interest never really picked up to read the rest including her new one. I’m curious to see if I still feel that way (may try and read the first one again). I remember her being very wordy as well.

    • June 15, 2011 1:23 pm

      Amanda – I think books 1 & 3 are tied for my favorite, since they seem to have the most plot – the most interpersonal drama, the most things actually happening, the most focus on people and relationships and on telling a story with a complete arc, rather than on descriptive stuff. But they’re definitely not for everybody, so if the first isn’t grabbing you, it’s probably not worth your while to slog through the rest.

  6. June 14, 2011 10:09 pm

    I guess we’ll just have to disagree. That is just a personal standard I have.

    • June 15, 2011 1:26 pm

      Cela – Fair enough. As long as you’re enjoying your reading and I’m enjoying mine, it’s all to the good.

  7. June 18, 2011 6:09 pm

    I like your review, but I certainly shan’t be starting these books… ;-)

    • June 20, 2011 2:30 pm

      Ela – It’s just the end of the series that went off the rails… I loved – LOVED – the first few when I was a teenager.

  8. cmarizfaze permalink
    July 10, 2011 3:33 pm

    Just finished Land of the Painted Caves. I’m disapointed that the reader never finds out what actually happened to Durc.

  9. Edward permalink
    July 22, 2011 9:22 am

    I read the damn book because I wanted o know what would happen with all loose ends. I got actually mad at Auel. WTF! On and on and on about caves and these introductions and song and what Ayla has been doing in the first fivebooks. And then in the very last part of the book she repeats something from the mammoth hunters.
    I am still mad.

    Just happy that I’m not the only one who dislikes this f******* book!

  10. Pundy permalink
    September 28, 2011 8:00 am

    I’ve been reading these books since I was a kid, and I have to say I was very disappointed with the close to this saga. I’ve read The Clan of the Cave Bear about 7 times, with very little skimming, and it’s still one of my all time favorite novels.

    By the time you get to The Mammoth Hunters, the story is starting to wear… I think this is mostly because of my own opinion of Ayla’s mate, Jondalar. Am I the only one who hates this douchebag? And to top it all off, the thrilling conclusion of Painted Caves just repeats the same thing that happened in this book, which is one of my least favorite parts of the entire series anyway.

    I was so bummed with this read… Every promising turn of events was resolved too quickly, and the childish behavior of Ayla and Jondalar at the end was almost too much for me to bear. I was also hoping for more of an interaction with the Clan in some shape or form, more than what was explained in Ayla’s vision… /le sigh/

    Yeah, I have been a skimmer since book 3, and especially since Plains of Passage. I am relatively certain that if some disruption in the space time continuum were to space wedgie me into prehistoric glacier rimmed Europe, I would be able to gather edible herbs, create weapons and tools to hunt, dress, and cook wild animals, and would not forget to save the intestines and bladders of these animals to store water and fat. So there’s that much.

    And while I’m at it, what was with the lifeless characters in this volume..? Marona is about the most 1 dimensional character I’ve ever read, and Jonayla is as flat as the paper she was written on. Even worse, I thought Brukeval was going to pan out to be someone very interesting, and was hoping for some sort of reconciliation between him and Ayla… Oh well.

    I think Auel is responsible for one of the most fascinating and unique pieces of fiction ever written, but I am sorry this was the close. What was her editor thinking?

  11. markk permalink
    November 16, 2011 10:58 am

    I got half way through and had to throw the book in the trash. I expected much more what a bummer.

  12. Lisa Millar permalink
    February 21, 2012 8:42 am

    Its been a while since I read this last book. I think I am finally over how annoyed I was with it! :) I suspect it will find its way into a second hand book shop soonish… and that happens to so few of my books!! (Esp one that completes a set I have enjoyed!)
    I wasn’t thrilled with number five, so I was a bit dubious about what the last one would bring.
    Seriously glad that I am not the only one that thinks it wasn’t too good!!
    I hate the Mother Song.
    Was dying for some real story… so many opportunites with Durc, the clan, Brukeval, Mammutoi visitors!!
    That rehash of the dramatic drug overdose from the Mammoth Hunters killed me! (more killed me than wading through exhaustive descriptions from a thousand caves!)
    I knew from the first chapter it was going to be agony… she spent all of it bar not quite two pages getting the characters to talk and talk and discuss and talk (yawn… JUST GET ON WITH IT!!) … so she did. Lions done and dusted in two pages (nearly)! Erk!
    Totally thought it went downhill from there!!
    I did think the book cover was pretty tho…
    If she dares to write another one I might use a library copy out of curiosity.

    PS Loved books one through four. I know four got a lot more verbose (Prolix?? is that a good word??) but I love the idea of travel like that and meeting new people, so with skimming and the bonus of Wolf ripping some womans throat out, I enjoyed! :)

  13. Greg Shenaut permalink
    December 1, 2012 5:57 pm

    I like all six volumes and probably enjoyed the last one at least as much as any of the others (I read them one after the other). I too looked at maps and pictures on line, and also read up on the ice ages and the various migrations of humans as Europe was populated. The best part of the books, by far, is how they connect the reader with his remote ancestors. The purpose of the lengthy descriptions is to force the modern reader out of his chair and into that savage, beautiful land. The caves do that better than anything else, because they are still there. The science fiction aspects of the story are also enjoyable. I have no complaints at all, I’m glad I read them all. Good job.

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