Vanessa's Reviews > The Land of Painted Caves

The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel
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Mar 07, 2011

did not like it

All right, that's finally done. Nothing like making a stomach bug feel worse by reading a very disappointing book.

First off, I will say that I do admire Ms. Auel for a couple of things: 1) She researched this like no one else. The depth and breadth of her experiences while writing all this are absolutely commendable. Above and beyond. Very few people get interested in something and go that far into learning about it. And 2) She has always said (in the few interviews I can find) that she wrote this whole thing for herself. Few writers can say that and mean it and I hope she is satisfied with what she produced. Ultimately, all writers know that that is what really matters. I'd like to thank her for introducing me to this fascinating world.

That said, here I go. Spoilers very much follow.

The first 2 parts of this book are just an agonizing repeated ad nauseum rehashing of incidents from the first 4 books (nothing of note happened in the 5th, really), and Ms. Auel's own field journal of tours of painted caves. Nothing happens. The end. Didn't even make me want to see the caves, and I've ALWAYS wanted to see those caves. Now if I do see them, I will just be thinking of the fat chick peeing in the corner and Wolf taking a crap on the path. (Note to aspiring writers: Telling about people and animals' bodily functions is not a detail needed for realism. Just not.)

The third part was where the published story should have started. A few halfway exciting plot points happen, or start to happen and then....just don't fulfill. Even Ayla's drug-induced "calling" was disappointing. And while it might be realistic and refreshing to show that Neolithic (Paleolithic? My college Anthropology escapes me right now) people were not benign "noble savages" with strict cultural morays against violence by showing them beating a group of criminals to a bloody pulp, I don't think that was necessary.
It made me sad that this book ended on such a negative note; that instead of Ayla contributing somehow to the future of mankind (as had been teased throughout the saga), she was the singular cause of its eventual "downfall"into a patriarchal system. All because she realized that the penis has a biological function for procreation. I expected more from Ayla.

And let's talk about that for a moment, shall we? I have never, ever seen an author turn on their protagonist in such a blatant and hostile way. The narrative of this book, the underlying tone, makes it very clear that Ms. Auel was sick to death of this story. That by the end of it, she hates this wonderful character she created and wants nothing more to do with her and lost the will to help Ayla become what we all thought she would. Ayla is flat and unsympathetic and simple. Even when Jondalar cheats on her with that malicious slut, I just rolled my eyes at the rehashing of the plot of MH that followed.

I know she struggled with a huge bout of writer's block. That happens to every writer (me included. I shall not throw stones into her little glass house). I wish Ms. Auel could have come through it with a little more grace and dignity, with some recognition that she was not alone in this endeavor, that there are millions of us out here who needed this story to be...more. Is that too maudlin? Did I hold her pedestal up a bit high? Maybe. But you can't start a meal with filet mignon and end it with green jello.

I've never been a fan of fan fiction. But I think I might take a stab at this one. Someone needs to fix this book. And, following Jean Auel's own
credo, I shall write it for myself.

And now back to reading ChickLit crap that I love.

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Reading Progress

March 7, 2011 – Shelved
March 15, 2011 –
page 402
53.1% "Most boring book. Ever."
March 18, 2011 –
page 511
67.5% "I'm starting to suspect that it might actually take quite a lot of skill for a writer to so completely hide a plot. Still slogging. Still don't need to know when someone needs to pee. Or when Wolf takes a crap in a cave. Sigh."
Started Reading
March 19, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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message 1: by Laura (new)

Laura (Madsen) McLain tell us how you really feel :)

Patsy Gantt Words out of my mouth. Glad I'm not the only one struggling with her last book. I've gone to page 200 and wonder why I'm still reading.

Vanessa Laura: When have you ever known me to do anything else? :) But, I really should wait til I've calmed down to write these...gotsta sound literary, don't I?

Patsy: We're still reading because it's been 30 years and once upon a time, this was an amazing story written by an astounding researcher who obviously was passionate about this world and about this character. She (I think) lost that passion, but we readers never did. We have to know what happens, right?

Patsy Gantt Right. I am on page 300 now. Still finding it a struggle to read but must find out what happens.

message 5: by Karla (new)

Karla Oh Good! One more book I don't need to stack to be read in some future life. If I live to be 100, I won't get through the books that keep sticking to me! Thanks! xo

message 6: by Sara (new)

Sara Fine. That's the last ARC you get from me. (Sniff.)

That said, I TOTALLY think you should fan fiction this!!! I don't even remember that much of what is going on and I would ABSOLUTELY read your story!!!!


Megan Lavey-Heaton Thank you! She not only turns on Ayla, but Jondalar as well. Really? I mean, REALLY? What was the entire bloody point of the character arcs in books 2 and 3 only to have this happen? There was another way for her to arrive at the ending without having to do this.

Alynnkb I completely second, third, and fourth this review! You're right that nothing really happened until Part 3, and then it was exactly the same story as before! Despite the fact that the last time everything went down, they both agreed they'd never act that way again. And.... then they did. You're right that expected much more from Ayla and Jondalar and wanted to see them grow. I didn't get that sense at all in this novel.

Rebyj I agree with your review although I enjoyed it a bit more just because I liked revisiting the world building once again. I thought Jondalar's BJ by the river was beneath the characters and the way they reacted didn't make sense. I kinda thought Ayla should have taken her sling out, load a carefully selected stone and invent circumcision.

Myranda Smith I cried so hard at the end. Not because it was sad but because Ayla had been my friend for many years. At times I ask myself, what would Ayla do? When looking for a man I always wanted a Jondalar. How she could have let them both down that much I will never know. Ayla doesn't die at the end but in more ways then one Auel killed her. Whats worse, how did the story turn from Ayla bringing the Clan and Other's together to how babys were made? Not one clan encounter the whole book, not one heroic life saving move by Ayla. Only painted caves and to much hurtful drama.

message 11: by Joanne (new)

Joanne Chilelli Very well said vanessa. I just finished it and am heartbroken. I have followed this series since I was 13 years old .. I am 43 .. and loved it so much until now. It was an editors nightmare to be sure but the whole feel was wrong. She destroyed Ayla and Jondalar in the end with their actions ... denigrated all they had been tru and yes .. made a mockery of the whole series because we really did believe that there was MORE .. sigh ... want to cry ..

message 12: by Rob (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rob I hadn't thought of this book as turning on Ayla, but that *is* one way of looking at it—almost as if Auel has read all the "Mary Sue" carping (a much over-done criticism, I think) and wants to break out of that, but has no idea why. I really expected Zolena/The First to clamp down on the insemination stuff—wasn't that why Ayla had to be brought into the Fold? Woulda, coulda, shoulda, oy vey es mir. Joanne, I'm in the same boat. Started on this series in my teens, and now…

message 13: by Rob (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rob Edit: that should be "no idea how." Or, heck, maybe I am correct.

message 14: by Cori (new) - rated it 2 stars

Cori I'm glad I'm not the only one lookin gat a foray into fan fiction over this one. I feel your review captures my thoughts exactly! I was so disappointed - still am, actually.

message 15: by Becca (new) - rated it 1 star

Becca I really do hope you write a fan fiction for this. Please let us know if and when you do, and where we can read it. I look forward to it...especially since I will never forgive Auel for what she did with and to Ayla, Jondolar, and to us for such a heartwrenching disappointment of a book.

message 16: by Terry (new)

Terry I don't agree that Auel "turned" on Ayla. If you mean that she was jealous enough and hurt enough to "get back" at Jondalar, I think that made her more "human."
I still love the caves, Chauvet in particular. I didn't need the endless description--it could have been explored in less sententious detail. One can see the images either in books or online and they are far more engaging, mysterious and incredibly sophisticated that words can describe.
Yes, there is far too much repetition: introductions, repetition of "The Mother's Song," even repetitions of the entire jealousy motif and the couple's lack of ability to discuss the issue. However I don't see a lack of grace and dignity, and Auel's scholarship is not debatable. Her style has always been on the dry side as far as I'm concerned, but her facts are straight.
The remains of first modern humans (H.sapiens sapiens) or Cro-Magnon are dated to ca. 35,000 years before present. The Chauvet caves date to more than 30,000 years ago. Ayla's people know of the caves but ascribe their paintings to "the Ancients," so Auel is careful about ascribing their creation to her own characters.
I have great respect for her work, even with its flaws.
...and Vanessa, if you are a writer, check out how to spell "mores" (not morays like the eel). It is direct from the Latin, meaning "behavior that is socially acceptable." I, for one, expect a writer to spell correctly.

Belinda If Auel didn't turn on Ayla what did she do? Give up?
And I would rather the facts were slightly skewed and the writing was 80% better, it is, after all, a work of fiction and not an academic read. So the onus should be on a good, tight book with strong characters and dialogue. This is not the case.
Auel has ruined her own series.

Vanessa Well, Terry, I'm glad you liked it. I have no problem with you liking it; I simply did not. And I think I was pretty clear in the first part of my review that I absolutely respect her research and her field work. I saw the movie "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" by myself, during the day, right after writing this and did, in fact, wonder where the poo was. But was enthralled anyway. I'm not stupid.
And yeah; morays was the wrong word to use. Funny how people like to pick out the one thing someone does wrong when they are criticizing something that not everyone agrees about....hmmmmm....funny that my misuse of one term gave you the need to waggle a finger at me. Oh, wait, did I mean 'wag?' Heaven forbid I get something else wrong in such an important milieu (ooh, was that the right usage?) Sorry; I am too busy editing a novel right now to grab my Strunk whilst writing a book review on a website for book nerds. But thank you for your input and your time.

message 19: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Van Lerberg If you do write a fanfiction, put it on and notify me. Tricorvus. Please. I could use some entertainment.

message 20: by Maca (new) - rated it 1 star

Maca Oh yes me too! I want to read your version!!! I have never been a fan of fan fiction either but I will say I found quite a few on ecfans and that filled the gaping wound left by this book.

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