Ugh, I have to apologize immediately for that pun. It does help you remember how to pronounce it, though, doesn't it?
I have so much history with The Clan of the Cave Bear that I really don't even know where to begin. I think I'll start with the personal anecdotes so that I can concentrate on the books themselves later.
When my brother was about ten, we bonded over his love of the movie. I think he saw it on TV, and he really liked it. I got him the videotape for his birthday one year. I don't think I realized till years later that the TV version probably had the rape scene edited out. Not that the scene in the film was very graphic but, you know, he was ten.
When I was fifteen or sixteen, I was reading--oh, which book? It must have been The Valley of Horses, the second book. My aunt saw me reading it and mentioned to my father that maybe it had "mature themes." I protested, reading him a passage from the page I was on, which was about earth mother iconography in primitive art. When, in the middle of the passage, I turned the page, he glimpsed over my shoulder the diagram of the stylized female genitalia that dominated the page. My point was not really proven.
In college, though, I bonded with my freshman roommate (hi, Linden!) over our mutual love of the books. We used to have speculative discussions of what Ayla would invent or discover in the next book. I was waiting for the wheel or agriculture; I've learned more about history since then and it doesn't seem likely that agriculture was invented in Ice Age France. I still hold out hope that she'll plant a little garden, though. After all, she intuited that sex makes babies. Girl knows her stuff.
As the years and the books wore on, our opinions diverged a bit, though. When Linden and I met, there were three books, all of which were good. I read a review somewhere that talked about the sad transition from Neanderthal dignity to Cro-Magnon singles bar, and yes, there was a lot of Pleasure-with-a-capital-P (no, that's not a euphemism I'm using, it's what the characters call it).
But really, it was all about the arts and crafts. I've used the phrase 'competence porn' elsewhere, and I want to find a better one, because 'porn' makes it into a joke, when really, the point is that people who are good at what they do are attractive, and watching them or reading about them is fascinating. This is how to live when you have to do everything yourself, and it's great that there's a novel built around it and all, but I'm in it to know how she's going to hunt a deer and whether she'll have enough time to tan the hide before the snow storm comes.
Then the fourth book, The Plains of Passage, came out in 2002. I would call it patchy; there are big chunks that I've read again and again, but there are also big chunks that I skimmed the first time through. Because they walked all the way across Europe, and the title says it all--they are passing through the plains. There were pages and pages and pages--literally, successively--on the nature and appearance of the grass, and how they changed over time. Crossing rivers is exciting, but there are a lot of rivers between Russia and France, and they spent a year walking. It reminded me of why I never finished The Fellowship of the Ring.
But the parts where they met people, those were fun. Ayla and her mate-to-be Jondalar (oh, did I give something away there? Sorry!) and her animals walk back the way Jondalar came in book two, meeting a lot of the same people he'd met a few years before, and having more adventures. She heals people and makes friends with the Sharamudoi, they rescue a community from a tyrant, try to end Clan-Others conflict, and meet Jondalar's father. All great scenes, but interspersed among a not-so-great travelogue.
And then came the fifth book, The Shelters of Stone. This is really where it fell apart for me. I remember almost nothing about this book, and I barely care enough to go back and remind myself. It's a bunch of people living in caves together. It's less of a village and more of a city, and somehow the Zelandonii customs are not nearly as interesting as those of any of the people we've met before on this adventure. I don't remember any of the new characters. It makes me kind of sad just to think about it.
So I guess what I'm saying is that I don't have a ton of hope for this new book. I hope that a good editor has been over it, and that my one pet peeve (wherein characters are surprised by the same information repeatedly so that it can be explained to you in successive books--YES, Jondalar, they TALK with their HANDS) is cleaned up a bit. I want to know what happens--I want to see Ayla again and spend time with her--but I'm not getting my hopes up.
You'll notice that I give you some detail in this post about the last two books, which I didn't care for, but not the first three, which I love. I'm saving that for a few weeks from now when the library lets me know that The Land of Painted Caves is waiting for me at the reserve desk. I'm going to write that post to get myself excited to read it. Stay tuned, Earth's Children!