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Prehistoric Times [Deckle Edge] [Paperback]

Eric Chevillard , Alyson Waters

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Book Description

June 15 2012

Shortlisted for the 2013 Best Translated Book Awards.

Praise for Palafox:
"Beautiful. . . . Very amusing. . . . Chevillard takes real narrative risks. . . . A must for anyone interested in anti-realist fiction."—Rain Taxi Review of Books

The characters in Prehistoric Times remind us of the inhabitants of Samuel Beckett's world: dreamers who in their savage and deductive folly try to modify reality. In an entirely original voice—full of burlesque variations, accelerations, and ruptures—Eric Chevillard asks luminous and playful questions about who we really are.

Winner of the 2003 Prix Wepler for Le Vaillant petit tailleur, Eric Chevillard is one of the most inventive authors writing in French today. He is also the author of On the Ceiling, The Crab Nebula, and Demolishing Nisard.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 170 pages
  • Publisher: Archipelago Books; Tra edition (June 15 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 193574416X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935744160
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 15.5 x 1.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,204,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Praise for Palafox :

"The current American new fabulism could learn a great deal from this very amusing book and its willingness to take real narrative risks...Beautifully translated by Wyatt Mason, Palafox is a must for anyone interested in anti-realist fiction." —Rain Taxi

"Eric Chevillard involves his reader in a powerful meditation on evil, foolishness, and inhumanity lurking in the heart of man." —Jean-Maurice de Montremy

"Imagine a comedy of manners, a supernatural tale, a sly commentary on science's quest for knowledge, a sad story about a creature that seems to possess characteristics common to marsupials, reptiles, and amphibians, not to mention insects and humans, and you have an inkling of what Eric Chevillard has done in his dark, disturbing, delightful, downright funny story of Palafox. Now mix into this brew some of Ronald Firbank's verbal fireworks, Italo Calvino's imaginative flights of exquisite writing, and Raymond Roussel's weird deadpan logic, and you get a little more of an inkling." —John Yau

About the Author

Eric Chevillard, winner of the 2003 Prix Wepler for Le Vaillant petit tailleur, is one of the most inventive young authors on the French literary scene. His On the Ceiling (Au Plafond, 1997) and The Crab Nebula (La nébuleuse du crabe, 1993), translated by Jordan Stump, were published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Alyson Waters's translation of Vassilis Alexakis's novel Foreign Words was published by Autumn Hill Books in 2006. She is currently translating two novels by Egyptian writer Albert Cossery, both of which are forthcoming with New Directions. Her translation of René Belletto's most recent novel, Coda, is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press. She lives in Brooklyn and teaches at Yale.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun Times in Prehistory July 29 2013
By James W. Fonseca - Published on
This is a book of elaborate word play, translated from the French. It's about archaeology, reflected upon by a graduate student who is in charge of a gift shop and giving tours of cave paintings. But he's a lackadaisical dreamer, we surmise, by the number of time he incites fury in his supervising professor and by the fact that in the end he gets fired and barricades himself in the gift shop! Amid the convoluted writing style we learn a bit about geology, bone fossilization, Carbon 14 dating and methods of cave paintings used in prehistoric times. Our narrator also performs some amateur archaeology by going through the stuff in drawers accumulated by his predecessor. But the main fun is in the words: "...must certain men remain immobile, inert even, so as to serve as reference points for the active ones...and bad examples? "...digression really is the shortest distance between two points, the straight line being so very congested." "Whereas we are sure of absolutely nothing when it comes to prehistoric times, we know nothing, or almost nothing." "In truth, everything is very simple and somewhat disappointing." We can see from these quotes why our narrator got in trouble. It's an "interesting" book, but to be honest, I think you would have to be an archaeologist or, better, a graduate student in archaeology to really like it.
4.0 out of 5 stars A demotion to a guide/guard for prehistoric paintings - can we de-evolve? July 20 2014
By TonyMess - Published on
Talk about going from the absurd to the ridiculous, I should have thought about my next reading journey a little deeper than just picking up Chevillard and saying “this will do”, from Krasznahorkai to Chevillard, now there’s a journey. Quarterly have described Chevillard as “France’s foremost absurdist”, even Wikipedia says “postmodernist literature”, yep I’m in for a surprise.

Our novel opens with our unnamed protagonist/narrator telling us that he is unfit for the job of guard/guide of the Pales caves as the uniform is too small, the cap is too large and the shoes too big. The caves contain Palaeolithic paintings, and our protagonist has been “demoted” to the role of guide/guard as he injured himself falling whilst on an archaeologist tour (he’s is an archaeologist without a kneecap).

This is where our novel takes a turn into the land of “strange”, our writer doesn’t want to actually start our protagonist’s story, our guide doesn’t want to go to work as a guide, procrastination and delay are the themes, our hero is potentially unevolving (?), disevolving(?), evolving backwards, is he slowly becoming prehistoric?

No two skulls are alike, as any peasant growing his turnips on the site of an ancient necropolis can tell you; no two turnips either, even if an exhumed skull is sometimes so similar to a turnip that you can mistake one for the other. When you think about it, it might even be that our particular casts of mind – each unique – depend solely on the shape of our skull, individual thought testing itself first against the bone of its brainpan, like music molding itself to the geometry of a dome without regard for the musician’s intentions. Just a hypotheses I’m throwing out here. Indeed, I’m going beyond the call of my duties. But since I haven’t yet taken them up…Let’s grant for a moment that this hypothesis is correct, in which case we can legitimately claim that one’s thoughts will develop more freely in a huge-domed skull – but with the risk of getting lost or confused – than in a narrow, pointy skull, unless, on the contrary, they become sharper and burst forth, which is not impossible. My starting hypothesis thus branches out into diverging subhypotheses: this is how webs are woven; truth cannot be caught by the hand.

For my full review go to

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