A review of

Palafox

by Eric Chevillard

Central question: What happens when a narrator tries to include all points of view?
Format: 136 pp., paperback; Size: 5" x 9" Price: $15.00; Publisher: Archipelago Books; Editor: Jill Schoolman; Run: 3,000; Book designer: David Bullen; Typeface: Janson; Translator: Wyatt Mason; Time spent translating: Six months; Representative sentence: “In anger, he deploys a strange annulus approximately ten inches in diameter, iridescent on a background of old gold, lacey, ribbed, usually folded into its neck as we watch, when not angry almost invisible, reinforcing, one might recall, professor Pierpont’s thesis stated long ago, that Palafox was an annulated lizard, but let’s not get carried away.”

Between experiment and distemper falls the shadow, and there we are in Eric Chevillard’s mordant dusk, expected to laugh too. In The Crab Nebula (1993), a man called Crab is likely going insane and decides to go with it, and as he goes, Beckettian questioning (“How to proceed, and where to begin, to begin what?”) veers into humor by turns sophomoric and revelatory (“Killing yourself is like beating down an unlocked door”). Sight gags rule On the Ceiling (1997), about an unassuming revolutionary who wears a chair on his head, softening the blow of the already oblique social commentary. But the persistent funnies of Palafox, written in 1990 and recently translated into English, are something else. Just skirting wit and the visual, bald and useless, they’re too integral to be easily disposed of and too disconcerting to avoid. Most arise from confusion over the classification of a rare beast, Palafox, who inexplicably hatches from an egg at the breakfast table of former British ambassador Algernon Buffoon.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Darren Reidy

Darren Reidy works for the Village Voice and lives in Brooklyn.

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