The Land of the Painted Caves
By Jean M. Auel
So this is the last book in the series and where in previous books Auel went into great detail on the terrain and the plants and animals and weather patterns of the regions that the characters are in, this last book almost doesn't speak of that at all. In stead about 70% of this book is aspects of Ayla doing her 'Donier Tour'.
Ayla travels with the spiritual leader of the Zealndonii people from cave to cave viewing and witnessing their ancient spiritual art work. So Auel instead of investing time and effort in describing the landscape goes into great detail describing images in cave networks that likely still exist today. Explaining exactly what animals are painted wear, the cave layouts, the animals directions whether they are pointed towards the cave exit or entrance, what animals are clear and what animals are indistinct.
To his end, the first half of the book is almost mind numbing with little in the way of plot line outside of 'travelled here, saw this, travelled there, saw that' embellished of course to make it more readable but really not by much. The turning point in the book is when a major earth quake happens and Ayla is not able to save a young man you had a rock fall on his head. After this point Auel seems to realise that 'hey right I'm meant to add a story line with a plot and what not aren't I?', and stuff actually begins to get interesting, but this is literally 250 pages into a 650 page book.
WarningThis book contains natural disasters, death, sickness, themes of rape and murder, mob violence and killing, sex, infedelity, extreme violence and ritualistic drug use.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Ayla eventually finishes her donier tour and then we see her during her last months doing her 'year of nights' where she needs to document the rise and set of both the sun and the moon for a year. she moniters the setting sun for a few more days after it's reached it's peak in high summer and starts to set further and further south once more when Ayla drinks some tea but uses the wrong bag, instead of having just mint tea, she has a mint flavoured tea that is actually mixed with much stronger herbs. This causes Ayla to be led on a hallucinogen powered spirit quest, or as they call it she can been 'called' to her vocation of being a spiritual leader.
This calling nearly killed Ayla, and she had to sacrifice a part of herself because of it but in return she got the last vers of the mothers legend that had previously not been known. The gift of knowledge that sex is not just pleasure, it is the source of reproduction and life. Previously people believed that sex and reproduction were two seperate things not linked and that men were a by-product, not essential to life but created for partnership, pleasure and to assist in providing for women and childen.
The idea of men wanting and having sexual control over their mates in order to ensure that the child is theirs had been sparked. This idea is now the predominant belief in todays society with infidelity being highly frowned upon. Now for good reason with the rise of STD's.
However reading these books and imagining their way of life and how casual they are about sex, and how happy they are about children, any children, in the belief that it was a devine entity that chose whose spirits were blended to create a child and so there was no blame put onto anyone if the child did not look like the father. You read this a feel sorta sad to see the beginning of the end of that.
I give this book a 6/10
The first half is a 2/10 the second half is an 8/10. Decent read if you have perseverance.
One thing I wasn't expecting to experience re-reading this book is that one of the main characters, Zelandoni once upon a time known as Zolena, previously I viewed her as a friend and teacher. Now I read this book and feel like back handing her because she constantly pushes Ayla to put her education and learning and what not towards becoming a felow Zelandoni (spiritual leader) before the needs of her family.
Zelandoni constantly tries to get her to mingle with other spiritual leaders and acolytes rather than letting her socialise with her friends and other mothers. Encourages her to get other people to look after her child whilst she learns or does more and more with the zelandonia. Instead of encouraging Ayla to talk about her issues she tries to distract her with new ceremonies, the last of which in the book damn near kills Ayla. So if you have a short fuse for people who do stuff like this, prepare to loath one of the main characters.
To be fair Zelandoni never had children herself so she's purposefully portrayed as being a bit out of touch of what is best for a new mother in a young relationship. As a woman who never wants children I can appreciate the fact that she doesn't understand but even I know that family comes first. Auel tried to walk the tightrope of a being an encouraging mentor whose a little out of touch which is a tricky line to toe. Unfortunately in the end though Zelandoni is not portrayed as a villain by any stretch she does come accross as cruel, cold and selfish.