Review: The Land of Painted Caves

The Land of Painted Caves I’ve been waiting more than half my life for this series to finally be completed… and was thrilled earlier this year to discover a publication date for what is billed as the final in the series. When I picked it up, though, I discovered that for all the time in development, this was the weakest of the series. If I hadn’t wanted to know how the story developed, I wouldn’t have had the patience to slog through the first 3/4 of the book. This particular book even challenged my ability to finish, taking me four days to pick through from start to end.

The truly unfortunate aspect was the really poor editing, something I’m becoming much more sensitized to as I take on more of that work myself. Someone needed to get in Auel’s face about her use of passive voice, inconsistent and incorrect verb tenses, and unclear referents. A teaching novel, this is not–unless it’s for examples of what not to do.

An unfortunate number of passages seemed to have been cut and pasted either from elsewhere in this book, or from earlier descriptions in other books, so it reads very repetitively, and encourages you to skip over entire passages to rejoin the action later on. In particular, although apparently Auel had been to all the caves she describes in such detail, for me as a reader, I lost track of which was what, and never really understood why I needed detailed dimensional descriptions in addition to the overwhelming number of ancient art descriptions. Yet, for all the details, (maybe because of all the details…?) I never really developed a clear picture of what Ayla and First were looking at.

Another frustration: Auel has built up a “premonition” Ayla has from the time of the Mammoth Hunters book about her two sons meeting. By the putative end of the series with this book, that still hasn’t happened. In fact, the end of the book really begs the question of whether there might not be a seventh book. Way back in 1986, she was interviewed in the Washington Post for the release of Mammoth Hunters (2/21/1986–which I clipped way back then and kept with the books) and admitted she had never written a word before her 40th birthday… though she was a voracious reader. The unfortunate truth is that it seems she had a better handle on (or maybe listened better to her support staff) how and what to write when she started this series than when she ended it–even though she described her first effort as a novel in six parts, and just did the rewrites to make each part stand on its own as a novel. I would have hoped, with a process that was that revision-oriented and based on such a detailed understanding of plot direction that the end of the series would have brought a much more satisfying resolution.

My recommendation: Read this only if you have to know how the series you’ve been committed to for decades ends.

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