Friday, July 15, 2011

Fiction - The Land of Painted Caves

The Land of Painted Caves, Jean M. Auel

This book has been waiting on my shelf for months - for when I had enough time to read it. Our little break a few weeks ago was the perfect opportunity.

It came with extremely high expectations. Jean Auel published The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first in this Earth's Children Series, in 1980. While I did not read it that year, being a pre-schooler at the time, I was introduced to it by my mother when at highschool. I loved it. It's a fantastic story of ice-age times (~30,000 years ago) where Ayla, a Cro-Magnon (modern human) girl who lost her family in an earthquake is adopted by a Neanderthal tribe ('cave-men').

Auel has gone on over these last 30 years to produce 6 books in the series, the rest of which detail Ayla heading out on her own and meeting her own people. There is a love story drawn in, which spans the rest of the 5 books. In this way, it's very similar to the extent of Diana Gabaldon's books - they cover the character's lifetime.

What I have love about these books is that they make this period of world history come alive. Auel does huge amounts of research and manages to include many details of how life could have been like then: early settlements, animals, food sources, hunting, plants, medicine and the way many potential inventions and discoveries may have come about (eg. making fire from flint).

I liked it, it finished the series for me, which as I have said, I have been reading for 20 years. However, I don't think the last 2 books were as good as the first 4. I suspect that Auel's true skill is in research and understanding those times, not so much as turning them into fiction. She seems to want to impart every detail of research which explains why the books, especially #4-6, are so long. In this latest book, The Land of The Painted Caves, there are meticulous details given to numerous ancient cave paintings throughout France - interesting for a while, but then increasingly tedious. Whereas in the first 3 books, her research enhanced the books, I felt that by this one, the fiction was just a mode to pass on all the information she had gathered.

Also, in books 2-3 there was real intensity to the relationship between Ayla and Jondalar (to the extent that I always feel I should warn people about the intimate scenes in them). By this last book, it was not emphasised nearly as much. I felt it wasn't so much the characters that had changed (as only about 5 years had passed for them), but rather that ~25 years have passed in the author's life.

Having said all that - I still really enjoyed it - it was a fitting end to a great series, which has shaped my whole reading life to date. The Clan of the Cave Bear was one of the first adult books I ever read, and I will continue to read and re-read them, as I do with all my favourite books.

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