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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Prehistoric Times

Eric Chevillard

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To purchase Prehistoric Times

Title: Prehistoric Times
Author: Eric Chevillard
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 130 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Prehistoric Times - US
Prehistoric Times - UK
Prehistoric Times - Canada
Préhistoire - Canada
Préhistoire - France
  • French title: Préhistoire
  • Translated by Alyson Waters

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Our Assessment:

B+ : striking voice makes for a fascinating read

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Prehistoric Times recognizes that he and his account are just a small speck in the vast history of mankind and earth:

This story began well before me, four billion years ago, about four billion years ago to be exact; it will carry on without me when I'm gone, with periods of respite that in no way mean it has come to an end, as one could perhaps erroneously think.
       The narrator sees and presents himself as part of a continuum: he has taken over the uniform and duties and even the house of another person, Boborikine, who in turn took over these from his predecessor, Crescenzo. Little attempt is made to adjust these things depending on who inhabits them, as they will do so only temporarily: it's clear that what matters is the role, and not who fills it (as anyone can fill it -- even if it is often not a good fit). Indeed, the narrator begins his account by complaining that the passed-down uniform doesn't fit him very well.
       Trained as an archaeologist ("and derailed as a result"), the narrator has been reduced to "guardian and guide" of the site he previously explored and worked in, caves with prehistoric cave paintings. He remains obsessed by the site: prehistorical, he knows there is meaningful history to it -- but it is not as readily accessible as later history; more must be read into it. The novel's epigraph is: "Only cave paintings seem made to last forever" (Gaston Chaissac), and the narrator is fascinated by the possibility of this art-form that appears to be able to, in part, transcend history.
       The narrator notes that: "the advent of writing is considered to be what marks the end of prehistoric times". This too, however, is just a passing phase (which he finds himself in), as:
man became that character in fiction whose extraordinary adventures will continue to unfold from book to book until sooner or later writing disappears because these adventures will wind up becoming tiresome as well
       While offering a written record here, the narrator ultimately chooses to make his mark in a different way: if he can not quite (im)memorialize himself in the same lasting way as the cave paintings themselves, he can try his best, given his circumstances, trying to wall himself both off and in history.
       Chevillard's fictions are striking both for their invention -- neither real science fiction nor entirely fantasy, they nevertheless stray far from naturalism, too -- and the style(s) of the writing. These are distinctive, remarkable voices, and the narrator here is precise in his expression, yet his voice is also oddly stilted, slightly off, in a beautiful example of a Shklovskian (or Brechtian) alienation-effect (nicely rendered in English by translator Alyson Waters).
       The narrator is an unusual guide:
I'm not making anything up, I'm writing fiction; apparently that's a job, I could see myself doing it, it seems pretty easy
       Like all of Chevillard's fiction Prehistoric Times is decidedly odd -- in tone, in feel, in substance. This isn't you usual fiction -- but there's a lot to be said for unusual fiction that looks like this.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 June 2012

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Prehistoric Times: Reviews: Eric Chevillard: Other books by Éric Chevillard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Éric Chevillard was born in 1964.

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© 2012-2024 the complete review

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