Clan of the Cave Bear was a fantastic read. The pacing was slow, but it had compelling characters, interesting themes, and made me feel transported to the world of the Ice Age. I would, without hesitation, rank it among my favourite books.
Valley of the Horses was interesting in a different way. Divided in two, with Ayla’s survival tale and Jondalar’s travel narrative, it didn’t pack nearly as strong a punch as Clan of the Cave Bear had.
After that, the narrative slowed down even more, getting worse with each new instalment. Plains of Passage warranted only a few chapters, the “does he, doesn’t it?” plot of Mammoth Hunters should have been a quarter as long, and the final two books ought to have been combined.
The narratives were stretched out with endless repetition. The sociological descriptions and explanations of the natural environments are great and add a great deal of the flavour that I love to the series, but even these suffered from a great deal of repetition. Far worse, however, is the endless explanation of plot. It makes sense to review content from past books, especially when a lot of time has passed since those books were published, but that’s now what Auel is doing much of the time. “If you’ll remember” passages can cover the same information multiple times within a couple chapters, and some of the content covered comes from earlier in the same book! There’s so much repetition that I got into the habit of not bothering to re-read sections if I zoned out because there was no point – I knew I’d be told again what had happened shortly.
I found the relationship between Ayla and Jondalar to be disturbing. Their love is consistently described as being intense, yet it seems to lack substance. As far as I can tell, it’s based on nothing more than Ayla having a vagina deep enough to take Jondalar’s large penis, and Ayla being infatuated with the first man she’s ever seen (not to mention the first man she’s ever had good sex with).
Further, the plot of two out of the six books revolves around Ayla and Jondalar having a falling out. In both cases, it never seems to occur to either of them to just talk things through. Instead, they avoid each other and work themselves up based on assumptions and misunderstandings. The first is resolved by Jondalar raping Ayla (which was totally good because she liked it!), and the second is resolved by Ayla essentially trying to commit suicide. If there was ever a definition of an unhealthy relationship…
I did find the series compelling enough despite its flaws to see it through until the end, but part of that was sheer stubbornness. I really enjoyed the sociological discussions, and mostly tackled the final book for them, as I had largely grown tired of the characters and plot.