Reading As A Mental Strain

After almost a year of lacking even the most basic concentration skills, I read and finished a book again: Jean M. Auel’s “The Land of Painted Caves.”

(Over the next few paragraphs, my spoiler-free opinion: as a huge fan of the series, I was somewhat disappointed in this last installment – the narrative voice seemed changed and the whole novel remained somewhat distant from the characters. For most of the book, Ayla and Jondalar hardly interact and when they finally get a common storyline where they are not just together on stage, this development rather sabotages both their characters and everything we learned about them since they first met in “The Valley of the Horses.” I was silently wailing “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” in my head as I kept reading… Worse, this storyline could even have worked if the execution had been different.

I read the first four books when I was about thirteen years old and the Earth’s Children series has been part of my life for almost two decades. It fuelled my passion for prehistoric archaeology and I really cared about the storyline and a lot of the characters. But after the fourth part, it started to go downhill a little and “The Land of Painted Caves” gives me the impression that maybe the author should have put it to the side for a year and then re-worked and fleshed out certain parts and slimmed others. Given Jean M. Auel’s age, I can understand that the publisher probably was in a hurry to get this printed, but it’s sad to see great writing and great storytelling becoming average only towards the end of a series that started three decades ago.

Unfortunately, the latest addition is still better than any other novel set in those times I ever read.)

At ca. 660 pages, it was not a short book, but once upon a time I would have managed to finish in about a week even if written in English – still takes three times as long as reading German. Here, it lasted 26 days, almost a month, until I was through.

There was a lot of getting used to reading such a long continuous text necessary and in the beginning, I had to put the book aside every few pages. Yet, that already was a progress compared to the last year, when even the average newspaper article demanded more concentration than I could bring up.

Strangely enough, the neurological tests I did at the hospital were within the normal range, while I felt like my cognitive skills had gone down the drain – so maybe the setting plays a role as well. But none of the tasks in those tests lasted longer than a few minutes and, being the model patient, I of course forced myself to give my best.
That’s a behaviour I often exhibit: I’ll give my very best performance, but once I’m within the safety of my own four walls, I will collapse on the sofa and remain there for the rest of the day, completely exhausted. So clinical tests don’t necessarily reveal the full truth in my case and that is what makes it so important that I managed to read a book in my leisure time, at home.

There already is a new book waiting for me that I checked out of the library for the upcoming trip.

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