THE LAND OF THE PAINTED CAVES [Earth’s Children Series], by Jean M. Auel. Crown, NY. March, 2011. 978-0-517-58051-6. $30.00. 768pp.
Apologies for having so long a period between reviews, but I hope you understand that I’ve been immersed in Jean Auel’s latest, LAND OF THE PAINTED CAVES and there just wasn’t an Internet in the world of 35,000bce!
I admit to being an absolute sucker for the Ayla series; the volumes have each come out at a pivotal time in my life, and have each held deep significance for me. This is not to say the books don’t have their flaws; this one could have done with a trifle more editing (but do recall that I’m reviewing from an Advance Reader’s, Uncorrected Proof)– and for those familiar with the series much of the background recounted is unnecessary, but I am personally so delighted to see this newest one that these quibbles fade quickly away. [not to mention that to any hard-core Jean Auel fan, too much is never enough!]
Ayla and her mate Jondalar, with their child, Jonayla, are living at the Ninth Cave; Ayla is an apprentice Zeladonia (Priestess) of Doni, Great Mother of All, to Zelandoni The First, High Priestess not only of the Ninth but of the entire network of caves of the Zelandonii peoples. I *love* Auel’s handling of The First and the deft way the author dismisses the “size-ism” of contemporary culture. The reader travels with Ayla and her family (including of course Racer, Whinney and Gray, the horses, and Wolf, her domesticated wolf) to the Summer Camp gathering. In Part Two, the journey is to another Summer Camp some four years later; Ayla continues her acolyte’s required Donier tour of the Sacred Painted Caves of their region. Auel’s depiction of the sacred Cave Art, and speculations about the pictures and symbols’ meanings by Ayla and other visitors, are not only adroitly done, but who knows? may even be close to the truth. In Part Three, Ayla is completing her Zelandonia training, with the demanding Year of Counting Moons, during which she must sleep daytimes and spend the nights watching and recording the luminaries’ daily movements. Throughout the sections of the book, jealousies, frictions, and even hatreds towards Ayla and Jondalar emerge. Central as well to Part Three is the powerful psychoactive root given her by the Mog-ur, Shaman of the Clan, which The First, discovering Ayla still has some, is anxious to try.
That the reader may have been lulled along, enchanted as ever by Auel’s recounting of the day-to-day relationships, not to mention survival techniques, of these Neolithic peoples makes the climax of the book–Ayla’s Gift of the Great Mother, a final verse of the Mother’s Song–all the more unexpected. Without revealing too much, Ayla, ever the innovator*, has planted with her Gift the seed of tension between the peaceful, Mother-worshipping peoples of Matriarchy, and the regrettable introduction of what would become in later millennia Patriarchy. In spite of any flaws, this is a thoroughly satisfying read; now I will attempt patience until the next chapter in Ayla’s life unfolds.
*Faithful readers of the Clan of the Cave Bear series will recall Ayla’s inventive brilliance; my late first husband would exclaim that “in the next book, Ayla will invent movable type!” In this book, Ayla perfects the homely, but oh-so-important Diaper Bag!