Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Hundred Million Years and a Day - Jean-Baptiste Andrea

 

Jean-Baptiste Andrea is a successful French novelist, screenwriter, and director whose work I have been unaware of until this month’s U.S. publication of his second novel, A Hundred Million Years and a Day. Andrea’s first novel, Ma Reine (My Queen), won its share of awards, including one for Best French Debut Novel. Andrea is not a particularly prolific writer, and that’s a shame, because A Hundred Million Years and a Day is one of the most memorable novels I’ve read so far in 2020. I was disappointed to find that he does not have a long backlist for me to explore.

 

Perhaps the most amazing thing about A Hundred Million Years and a Day is how deeply Andrea manages to explore the makeup of his four main characters within the confines of the 160 pages he allows himself to tell his story. Stan, the narrator is an obsessed paleontologist who has been estranged from his father for years; Umberto is a student Stan once mentored, a man still willing to risk his life for Stan; Peter is a German student currently being mentored by Stan in a relationship much like the one Stan and Umberto still have; and Gio is the mountain-climbing guide tasked with keeping all of them alive. As the characters and their relationships evolve in real time, their individual backstories are provided via brief flashbacks that turn them into real people.

 

Stan has been a budding paleontologist since he was six years old and discovered his first fossil while breaking rocks with a hammer out of anger. As he puts it:

 

            “I imagined the face of Miss Thiers (his teacher) on its surface – and one, two, three – dealt her a vengeful blow. The stone immediately split open, as if it had just been pretending to be whole. And, from its mineral depths, my trilobite looked me in the eye, every bit as surprised as I was.

 

            It was three hundred million years old, and I was six.”

 

Jean-Baptiste Andrea
That was in 1908. Now it is 1954, and Stan is living his childhood dream. Now 52 years old, Stan has just heard a credible story about the chance discovery of a unique fossil decades earlier by a frightened teen forced into a cave during a mountain snowstorm. The huge skeleton described to him sounds suspiciously like what could be the first complete brontosaurus fossil to be discovered or even that of an entirely new species.

 

So now Stan, Umberto, Peter, and Gio are on top of a remote mountain in search of the lost cave and its mysterious inhabitant. And the clock is ticking. If they don’t leave the mountain top before winter sets in, and the only way down ices over, they will die there. Only Gio, with all of his mountain-climbing experience, can tell when it’s time to give up the search and head down. But what if the others won’t listen to him?

 

Bottom Line: While there is an incredible amount of story and character development packed into this short novel, the author still manages to convey a vivid sense of his mountain top setting and the harsh elements with which his characters are having to deal. As the weather worsens, tempers flare, and exhaustion sets in, a sense of dread develops, and A Hundred Million Years and a Day becomes a real page-turner. This is a good one.


Advance Reading Copy Provided by Publisher for Review Purposes

6 comments:

  1. Someone else mentioned this book recently, I don't think it was you... Lark possibly? Anyway I put it on my 'want to read' shelf on Goodreads a couple of weeks ago as it sounds very good.

    Just wanted to pop in and thank you for your kind words of support in reply to my recent post. My husband is doing ok, he has a cheerful nature so that helps but he's not thrilled with sitting in hospital until Monday, twiddling his thumbs. Luckily he's a reader and took him Nook in with him but I don't think his concentration is that great. Not surprising really. This has a been a real bolt from the blue and I'm still trying to get my head around it to be honest, but your support is very much appreciated.

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    1. I'm so happy that your husband is doing well. Having been hospitalized for an extended stay myself four years ago, I realize how difficult it is to concentrate on reading under those conditions. Just too many distractions and interruptions to concentrate very well. But the fact that he's making the effort and feels well enough to do so has to be encouraging.

      Do take care of him - and of yourself. You are lucky to have each other.

      As for the book, you can tell how much I like it, I suppose. Part of that, and I hope it comes across, is that it is such a short book but still exhibits all the attributes of the best kind of writing and storytelling possible. Packing so much into such a short form requires a special kind of talent.

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  2. I was hoping this would end up being a good one. The premise ticks a lot of bookish boxes for me: a lost cave, a snowstorm, a mysterious creature. This one is definitely going on my list. :)

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    1. Lark, in that case, you should really like this one. It is atmospheric, character-driven, and has a totally unexpected ending. I do love it.

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  3. I don't know what happened to my comment, but I thought this one sounded so good, I requested a copy. Have not started it yet, but soon, I hope.
    (Oh, I just remembered I read your post the day our electricity went off--so that is what happened to my comment.)

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    1. Can't wait to hear what you think about it. It is so different from most of what's being published today, that it really stands out on my 2020 reading list. There's just so much packed into this little novel - and it's so very well told, too.

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