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Man in the Holocene

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  975 Ratings  ·  63 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
Paperback, 128 pages
Published May 1st 1994 by Mariner Books (first published 1979)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,038)
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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

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
Feb 27, 2012 Mariel rated it really liked it
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
Feb 11, 2016 Mary rated it really liked it
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
Feb 11, 2016 Josh rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
I am a Man in the Holocene.
Geologic epoch. Mankind flourishes in the Holocene.
My head feels strange.
I am a Man in the Holocene.
History has its way with me. It spits me out and brings me forth.
These notes help. Freshly taped to wall.
Geiser is my name. Geiser is my name. Geiser. Name.
I miss her.
I am a Man in the Hollow Cene.
I do what I can. The rain is flowing over the hills and valleys.
The rain falls, eroding away my mind. My mind is all I have.
I am a Man Holocene.
It’s wet. I see rain.
I am a Man.
Dec 22, 2010 notgettingenough rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-lit
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
Jul 12, 2007 Andrew rated it liked it
Old age is a motherfucker.
lyell bark
May 02, 2011 lyell bark rated it it was amazing
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
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)
Neil Griffin
Dec 27, 2012 Neil Griffin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 09, 2008 Green Lantern rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 20, 2013 zxvasdf rated it liked it
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
Apr 21, 2016 Daniel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german, self
Gutes Buch und sehr interessanter Schreibstil bzw. Satzbau.
Die Erosion der Umwelt in Herrn Geisers unmittelbaren Umgebung spiegelt seinen geistigen Zerfall wider und die Art wie Max Frisch diese Geschichte erzählt ist wirklich einzigartig.

Katastrophen kennt allein der Mensch, sofern er sie überlebt; die Natur kennt keine Katastrophen.
Lenny Wick
Oct 09, 2014 Lenny Wick rated it it was amazing
Commentaries on this slender book often refer to it as bleak.

This, I don't understand. There is bleakness to it -- the man's valley is innundated with rains, he's a lonely old widower whose memory is leaving him.

Yet he has a daughter who seems to love him, if living distantly. He is it enough for a fairly strenuous hike.

More important, though, is that this book is about time and time's pass. A whole lot of time, as the case may be, the sort of time that comes marked with words like Jurassic and
Greg Scowen
Feb 20, 2012 Greg Scowen rated it it was amazing
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.

Nov 28, 2015 M rated it really liked it
A bittersweet look at life through a solitary old man's eves. In his attempts to remember and maintain an agile mind he begins to forget everyday things. It's rare to see senility from the perspective of the person experiencing it. Was Geiser aware of his own mental erosion? The repeated passages about geologic erosion suggest he was, but was unable to stop the passage of time despite his best attempts to continue learning. His aging and forgetting is as inevitable as the movement of the glacier ...more
Sep 02, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it
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
Jan 21, 2016 wally rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: frisch
19 jan 16
1st from frisch for me, kindle, not the hardcover, kindle isn't listed here but this one is definitely available on the kindle.

man in the holocene

story begins: it should be possible to build a pagoda of crispbread, to think of nothing, to hear no thunder, no rain, no splashing from the gutter, no gurgling around the house. perhaps no pagoda will emerge, but the night will pass.

onward, ever onward.

21 jan 16
finished. 3-stars. i liked it. interesting narrative, the old man pushing seventy
Apr 06, 2016 JW rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction
For the first half of this book I did not understand why I was enjoying it; jumbled thoughts, disparate facts cut from books, a pending disaster; nothing to move the tale forward other than the disquiet of an old man's thoughts. Then, something about old Geisel kept me reading. I see my grandfather in his confused state, then the meanderings of a future self.
Cooper Renner
May 27, 2014 Cooper Renner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Lisa Lee
Aug 24, 2014 Lisa Lee rated it really liked it
Sad man. Eroding man. Rain = time, soil = mind, or other things. Fall, of man. Destruction of man. Failure of man.
Aug 27, 2016 Stubabe rated it really liked it
This novel is an example of Frisch's literary artistry. Different readers will take away different interpretations of his subtle, nuanced writing but for me Frisch is examining here the mental perspective of a 73 year old man living alone in the Swiss countryside; specifically, his memory and the losing of his memory and how memory relates to the observable present. Sound simple? Hardly! I'm 66 and this is my second time through. I intuitively understood much more this time. And there will be a ...more
Dec 24, 2012 Tommy rated it really liked it
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
Apr 02, 2015 Theresia rated it really liked it
Shelves: translated
(Reread) Nothing, nothing meditates upon loneliness and mortality as lyrical as German novels do. Frisch's old man is everything Hemingway's old man is not, but hey, existence is cruel.

Also, this rereading is accompanied by Bon Iver's Holocene, Fleetwood Mac's Landslide, and Urasawa/Katsushika's Master Keaton episode Noah's Arc.
J.M. Hushour
Feb 21, 2013 J.M. Hushour rated it really liked it
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
Jun 27, 2012 Artem Huletski rated it it was amazing
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
Barbara Lock
Oct 23, 2015 Barbara Lock rated it it was amazing
One of my very favorite books. Crisp, clear language, character easy to inhabit, construction magnificent, haunting. This was my first Max Frisch book, and I feel so fortunate to have discovered him.
Apr 24, 2016 Kai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Upea pieni kirja Sveitsin Tessinistä (tai Ticinosta). Maailmaa koskevien tietojen muistamisen merkitys on yksi kiinnostavista kysymyksistä, samoin keskeishahmon rapistuva tajunta.
Haydee Pineda
Jul 02, 2016 Haydee Pineda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Un libro increíblemente calmado, triste, muy tristes pero con tanta calma en él que es hermoso, sientes paz.
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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.” 5 likes
“The ants Geiser recently observed under 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.” 2 likes
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