So I finished the latest Jean Auel book.
And by “finished” I mean that I gave up reading the unbelievably tedious journey from cave painting to cave painting to cave painting—seriously, did an editor even breathe the same AIR as this book?—skipped to where stuff started to happen, became baffled and frustrated and then downright angry, and found myself in agreement with the minor character from Book 3 who popped up to say, in effect, “Y’all need to stop fucking around or I’m gonna knock your heads together, because this shit keeps happening.” (I paraphrase, I paraphrase. But that’s the gist.)
I am going to rant for a minute or two here, and there may be spoilers, so you should stop now if you have already bought the book. If you haven’t–or if you still know where the receipt is–keep reading, I can save you a couple of precious hours.
This was a big disappointment.
Now I loved these books. I loved them even knowing that they are not great books. I started them when I was, like, ten, and they are critical bits of my childhood. I grew up with these books.
No, seriously, I figured out that a clitoris existed because of Jean Auel books, in a “What the hell is this thing they keep bringing up during the sex scenes?” kinda way. For this alone, I owe Mz. Auel a debt of gratitude, otherwise I would have had to wait until ninth-grade health and learning you have something like that from a xeroxed word search is just humiliating.
Really, I loved these books. I don’t care that Ayla invented everything worth inventing, spoke ten languages, was a doctor AND a psychic AND a master hunter AND beautiful AND rode lions AND domesticated the horse, while remaining modest, kind, and good with children. I was okay with that. I pick up Valley of Horses and the lens of my youth slides back down over my brain and I feel warm and fuzzy and confident that I, too, could kill things in a pit trap and ride lions if I felt like it. Yes, as I aged, I skipped the sex scenes, and yes, that meant I skipped a LOT of Book 4. (Oh look, mammoths! Let’s have sex! Hey, we nearly died! Let’s have sex! Oh look, locusts! Wanna have sex?) But stuff still happened, and I still enjoyed it quite a lot.
And then there was this last book.
Now, I respect the rights of authors to decide what their great works are about for themselves, and if Auel decides that the critical chunk of her books is not Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon interactions, but rather the discovery that sex = babies, then Auel gets to do that. I fully respect her right to make that choice.
…even if it is a seriously stupid-ass choice.
However, I also respect the contract with the readers, and if you’ve put the gun on the mantle in book three, you are required to fire it by book six. Saying “Hey, look, remember that gun from book three?” does not count as firing it. Visions and prophecies are not like remainders in long division—merely mentioning them does not count as resolving them.
In short, you dedicated the entire first book to the Clan, they’re the great tension of the series, the issues involved could fire three or four books, you even set up ways to deal with that issue…and instead you spent the final book exhaustively detailing every cave painting in France and then having Jondalar and Ayla fuck up their relationship Yet Again in ways that felt haphazard and worse, bafflingly illogical.
Terrible. Boring and terrible and not true to the characters and wasteful of unbelievable potential. And I really didn’t expect much. Something on par would Book 5 would have been fine, if it wrapped some loose ends and had a trade delegation to the Clan and whatnot, and nobody remembers Book 5 very fondly. I wasn’t expecting a triumph.
(I realize that this is arguably the worst review I’ve ever given a book in public, and I do so only because I’m sure Jean Auel doesn’t read my blog, but still—god, what a WASTE.)
Therefore, I have a proposal.
There was a movie a decade or so ago. It was the sequel to a very popular movie that involved people living forever by cutting off other people’s heads. The sequel started with H, ended with 2, had Sean Connery in it, and after it came out, fandom rose to its collective feet, looked at one another, and said “Let us never speak of this again.”
And we mostly haven’t. The franchise went on to have several very entertaining TV shows, and we have generally managed to go on by pretending that there never was such a movie or if there was, it was clearly some form of fevered fan-fic and not even remotely resembling canon.
I would like to propose that we place Land of Painted Caves into this category.
It didn’t happen. The book did not occur. Yeah, I’m still a little disappointed that the series ended on a kind weird note in Book 5, but at least there were hints at potential resolutions, right? Some neat characters there! Guess the vision was just a metaphor or something. Pity she never got around to writing that sixth book, but y’know, she got into her research so much, and then the aliens abducted her right out of that cave—was that crazy, or what?
There will probably be comments. I will probably chat in them.
And afterwards, let us never speak of this again.