Man in the Holocene: A Story
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Man in the Holocene: A Story

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  653 ratings  ·  49 reviews

Frisch charts the crumbling landscape of an old man’s consciousness as he slips away from himself toward death and reintegration with the age-old history of our planet. A “luminous parable...a masterpiece” (New York Times Book Review). Translated by Geoffrey Skelton. Illustrations. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book
Hardcover, 113 pages
Published December 31st 1980 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P (first published 1979)
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Today I went for a walk down the street and through the gate to the cement road, steeply inclined and overgrown in patches with thistles and weeds sprouting from the droppings of many cows, who roam the now yellowing hills that despite the overcast sky are impressively laid out for many miles, a winding valley through which a running creek cuts and crosses over grey and under green.

The cement road branches at its base, and if you follow the right path you will come to a gate and yet another bran...more
Feb 27, 2012 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: tertiary terseness
Recommended to Mariel by: Ian and Praj, indirectly
"Panning for gold in the streams has never been worth the trouble. All in all, a green valley, wooded as in the Stone age. There are no plans for a reservoir. In August and September, at night, there are shooting stars to be seen, or one hears that call of a little owl."

I took the hologramscenic route. Stars hurtling towards the earth and lands somewhere in some planetary crust. It could be a three or a four star book. I don't know how much I like it yet so I think I'll just walk around a bit i...more

This was my first experience with the Dalkey Archive, revered by many of my friends on Goodreads, and unfortunately the first impressions were very poor: can it really be, I thought, unwrapping this in front of my postbox and examining it, that they spelled the name of the translator wrong on the front cover of the fucking book?!

Geoffrey Skelton was one of the greatest German translators we had (he died in 1998). How many people, I keep thinking, must have looked at this cover design before it g...more
Jan 09, 2013 Mary rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary by: Mark
Shelves: fiction, 2013
Oh, what a brief and fleeting moment we have to be alive. What tiny insignificant blips on the radar we all are.

Our minds will eventually erode. The way ecosystems came and went. The way lifeforms came into existence, flourished, died too will we.

I have never read a book that captured the disorientation, isolation and tragedy of old age in such an unsentimental and yet obsessive and moving way. I read it in one sitting and felt as claustrophobic and lonely as the character did alone in...more
Bit sick, don't seem to have the wherewithall to write about this, so I thought I'd let Frisch do that. A few extracts from a Paris Review interview, the entirety of which can be found here:


When did you first decide to create the flat, cold, “affectless” hero we have been discussing?


Hard to know. I think I made it not all at once, but slowly; gradually it felt more and more comfortable. Just now I think—I don’t know if it’s right or wrong...more
Old age is a motherfucker.
lyell bark
basically there are two things i want in fiction at this point in my life and that's a] a miserable european male who b] confronts the absolute terror/absurdity/meaninglessness of existence/the universe/everything in the form of some sort of inscrutable edifice [can be literal edifice, physical phenomenon, artwork, w/e, i don't care]. thankfully there are like a million zillion books that fall into my relatively narrow aesthetic+narrative comfort zone. bonus points if it's all internal monologue...more
Interesting short novel. More than anything else I think I liked the setting, and how it permeated everything. Mountains & landslides, rain rain rain. The intertextuality of found clippings into the story really serve to heighten the depth of the novel, in a pretty interesting way. I found myself fascinated by things that I didn't know I was fascinated by (like dinosaurs and tectonic plates). The loss of memory was harrowing in it's construction, text echoing thought/mind.
An unusual, 'experimental' quite short postmodernist novella, this book is strangely moving in its general conception, though hardly in its parts. It is the first specimen of Frisch I've read, and I have no idea whether (though I rather doubt it) it is representative or similar to Stiller or Homo Faber (which I plan to read soon).
[[sounds for this walk and so on]]
(view spoiler)...more
Although the Holocene is in reference to the current geologic epoch, it would do as a description of the ineffable, singular "Now." Our hero, the widower Geiser, is locked in the fathomless present, in which, indistinguishable from reality, memory and fact surface.

He has tacked a fluttering multitude of notes on the wall, of things he used to know. He has problems with clarity, and thrashes about his house during a rainy night which has shut down the electricity. The overall effect is of a soft...more
Neil Griffin
The intersection of old age, dinosaurs, geology, geography, weather, Alps, erosion, encyclopedias, and sadness. Certainly a weird read, but one that you should put down next time you're snowed in or there's an earthquake or something.
Green Lantern
Reviewed by Nick Sarno

The best thing about reading manuscripts is that they come with no expectations. They arrive absolutely free of history. For as much as I may love Samuel Beckett, I’m constantly forced to wonder how much of this was set up for me in advance by the Beckett brand. I don’t know when I first read him, nor exactly what lead me to him, but I can imagine at least a few of the things I knew about him before I cracked open Molloy for the first time: he worked as Joyce’s assistant du...more
We are the gap between thumb and forefinger, enclosed in that finite space. And the more finite something is, whether it is a stranger at a harbor or meat stewed with cabbage, Moscow style (The Lady with the Pet Dog!), the more it is charged with life, emotions, joy, fears, compassion. By placing characters within the scale of infinity, we get this charged object in art. This is stuff Joseph Brodsky talked about in his essay “On Boredom.” In a way, Brodsky is saying infinity might learn somethin...more
Cooper Renner
An elderly Swiss widower who lives in a small town in the Alps confronts day after day of rain--clipping bits of important information from books and sticking them to the wall; thinking about his life and the history of his environment; making a trek up through a mountain pass, aiming to make it to the next village. Perhaps a kind of meditation of aging and the accompanying losses.
J.M. Hushour
When I have the flu is perhaps not the best time to catch up on my fiction backlog, but what the hell else am I supposed to do except sit in bed and feverishly dream about killer paper packets? Frisch is awesome, this book, and this might have just been the fever's read, is a little more peculiar than his other stuff: a elderly man watches for signs that unending rain is going to destroy the valley village above which his house perches, and waits for the inevitable landslide. Insane (perhaps wit...more
Artem Huletski
О книгах, которые нравятся тебе сразу, сказать практически нечего. Не хочется ничего анализировать и развешивать на стенах. Человек, замкнутый в своём панцире, похож на динозавра, отрезанного дождями от остального мира в уютной швейцарской долине. И, пожалуй, главная идея этой книги - что судьба у него будет динозавровая, независимо от настоящей причины их гибели. Считается, что homo sapiens появился в палеолите. Но каждый новый день происходит обновление, и человек - "есть то, что должно превзо...more
Greg Scowen
Feb 20, 2012 Greg Scowen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like to think
Shelves: switzerland
I read Man in the Holocene as part of a university paper in European literature quite a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It didn't hurt that I had recently moved to Switzerland, where the book is based, and was able to picture the valley that the book describes.

The novel follows the meandering thoughts of an older man who is losing his mind. As he describes the flood in the valley in which he lives and how he can't get out, he also sticks notes and newspaper clippings all over his walls.

A stark, beautiful parable about the necessity and ultimate futility of categorizing knowledge, or of knowing at all. Mr. Geiser, an elderly man living in a remote Swiss village, is cut off from the outside world by a landslide, and he begins ordering the things he knows by cutting out entries from an encyclopedia and putting them on his walls, along with passages from the Bible and other books, until what he knows actually becomes a jumble of only semi-coherent ideas. The assembling and re-asse...more
Lisa Lee
Sad man. Eroding man. Rain = time, soil = mind, or other things. Fall, of man. Destruction of man. Failure of man.
The narrative reads in short fragments, interspersed with extra-textual tables, cut-outs from encyclopedias and local histories. Structurally, it is somewhat similar to flipping through a writer's notebook. It felt comfortable to me, in that regard.

I admired the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia Frisch constructed. There is very little physical detail, and what little there is has been filtered very carefully out from the depths of Geiser's (the protagonist's) mind.

The encyclopedia pastings...more
"Die Natur braucht keine Namen. Das weiß Herr Geiser. Die Gesteine brauchen sein Gedächtnis nicht."

Everybody who loves Frisch cannot avoid this book, it is a masterpiece of his late works. I always loved Frisch, his way to write and to lead the reader. But since I read this book, the author got a deep space in my heart. It's Frisch in a honest way, in a deep one, a book like a journey to himself.
About loosing and finding.
About resignation and hope.
I recommend reading it in German if you can - hi...more
It's definitely a pleasure to be done with school (yay, me!) and get back to reading things just for pleasure. This book was lent to me by an avid fan, and while I intellectually admire the beauty and collage-like building of details and images...I don't emotionally respond to works like this, usually. In other words, I felt a little bit like a dummy, reading it, both for not enjoying it more and for not responding to it more positively! That reflects on me, not the haunting small jewel that is...more
Natalie Hamilton
An interesting read on the theme of isolation and aging. The narrative is interspersed with clippings from the books in the widower Geiser's house in a Swiss valley. Outside, an epic rainstorm threatens to undermine the very solidity of the landscape with landslides and rockfalls. Inside, Geiser's mind is undermined by his inability to recollect things he once knew, and he obsessively writes down facts on slips of paper or clips paragraphs out of his books and fastens them to the walls of his ho...more
János Spindler

in 90% of the cases I highly disagree with book critics, not in this case. frisch got old and tells a story of a old man struggling with aging and his memory. all in all the only thing frisch wrote about in this book are trees, rocks,rain and and trees..over and over again. all the biology book parts were not my thing so i skipped most of them. it was ok for sitting in the subway for 2 hours and reading this
Max Frisch is a talented author who I need to read more of. This is especially great, since it's only 107 pages, and you can get through it in a couple of hours. The story follows the thought process of an old man, Geiser, as his mind begins to fail him. He fills his life (and the pages of the novel) with fragments of encyclopedias and the bible, and continually loses track of time and touch with reality.
"The ants Geiser recently observed undrr a dripping fir tree are not concerned with what anyone might know about them; nor were the dinosaurs, which died out before a human being set eyes on them. All the papers, whether on the wall or on the carpet, can go. Who cares about the Holocene? Nature needs no names. Geiser knows that. The rocks do not need his memory."

A great mind warping read. My first Frisch!
old man living on mountain worries about whether a heavy rainstorm will cause a landslide. meanwhile, he occupies himself with articles from an encyclopedia set that sets into relief how little man knows in the present holocene geological period. "man remains an amateur." brief, but hefty, yet kind of like beckett-light.
At 110 pages, including pictures, this book was a delightful break from the other assignments in my 20th century post-modern literature home schooling. The same goes for Calvino's 'Invisible Cities'. Keep those brilliant novels of less than 150 pages coming.
Beautiful book about life in Tessin, about aging and the struggle to be independent. Some might find the struggle comical, others tragic or simply foolish. I might agree, but nevertheless find it compelling and truly human.
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Max Rudolph Frisch was born in 1911 in Zurich; the son of Franz Bruno Frisch (an architect) and Karolina Bettina Frisch (née Wildermuth). After studying at the Realgymnasium in Zurich, he enrolled at the University of Zurich in 1930 and began studying German literature, but had to abandon due to financial problems after the death of his father in 1932. Instead, he started working as a journalist a...more
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“-only human beings can recognize catastrophes, provided they survive them; Nature recognizes no catastrophes.” 4 likes
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