About the Book:
The original, unforgettable and thought-provoking new novel by award-winning author Chris Flynn that will change how readers understand the world.
Narrated by a 13,000-year-old extinct mammoth, this is the (mostly) true story of how a collection of prehistoric creatures came to be on sale at a natural history auction in New York in 2007. By tracing how and when these fossils were unearthed, Mammoth leads us on a funny and fascinating journey from the Pleistocene epoch to nineteenth-century America and beyond, revealing how ideas about science and religion have shaped our world.
With our planet on the brink of calamitous climate change, Mammoth scrutinises humanity’s role in the destruction of the natural world while also offering a message of hope.
This was quite the novel – unique and visionary on a level I’ve never before encountered within fiction. This story was so incredibly clever, and in all honesty, the author’s imagination has impressed me to no end. The story is narrated by Mammut, a 13,000 year-old extinct Mammoth, so in actuality, he’s a fossil. The story unfolds through Mammut telling his history, from the events leading up to his extinction through to how he found himself present at the natural history auction in New York in 2007. He’s telling this story to his fellow ‘cell mate’, T.bataar, and later, to other fossils and artefacts as they get moved into the holding space where Mammut is presently serving out his days. In terms of narrative devices, he is entirely unique, given that he is now an object rather than a living creature. Of note from this, is how swiftly I forgot that he was an object, so too with the other fossils and artefacts that made up the cast. The author gives the reader pause to consider what defines living, just one of many very insightful concepts to come out of the reading experience that is Mammoth.
‘Thirteen thousand, three hundred and fifty-four years is too great an amount of time to comprehend, and yet that is what I am led to believe has elapsed since the antediluvian days. The primeval struggle for survival. Man versus beast. Those were heady times.
We lost, of course. But we gave you a run for your money.’
Mammut – the Mammoth – and T.bataar – the Tyrannosaurus bataar (distant relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex) are the first characters we encounter. Mammut was exhumed and assembled in 1801 and T.bataar in 1991. This is reflected in their language, as it is inferred that they learned English from those who were working on them during their excavation and assembly. Mammut is quite formal with his language and the telling of his story while T.bataar is the complete polar opposite and when put together, it makes for some highly amusing exchanges – kind of like a 19th century American industrialist having a conversation with a 1990s rapper. Mammut is quite a dry character and possesses the type of wit, that when combined with intelligence and wisdom, offers a special brand of cutting humour. I will confess here, that there is an element of my personality that is still quite immature when it comes to humour and there were so many moments throughout this novel where I was giggling uncontrollably. While the laughs were aplenty and there are no end of examples, I absolutely have to share with you the ‘tiny hands’ exchanges. I still laugh when I think about it.
*Mammut to T.bataar*
May I ask you a personal question? It’s species related, so I hope you don’t find it offensive.
Fire away, tusky.
What purpose do your tiny hands serve?
What tiny hands? My hands are huge.
No, they’re not. They are comically small.
They’re bigger than human hands.
That may be so, but in proportion to the rest of you, they seem unusually feeble.
Says you, Mammut.
Says everyone, actually.
Perhaps they will provide you with more scintillating conversation.
Tiny fingers crossed!
I thought that was a sensitive subject.
It’s okay for a Tyrannosaurus to joke about the size of his hands but if anyone else does it’s body shaming.
There’s really two stories occurring simultaneously within this novel. The historical narrative being delivered by Mammut and the interactions between the characters as they wait in the holding space for the auction. Mammut’s story is regularly interrupted by the different characters as they question him – particularly his memory with regard to the conversations he seems to be able to recall verbatim even though they occurred hundreds of years previous – as well as offering their own stories and opinions on anything and everything. Again, all of this is highly amusing and offers balance to the historical narrative that Mammut is taking them through. The sarcasm abounds but it is in these particular moments that we are most confronted with our humanity and the infinite power this has afforded us throughout time, not just over the natural world, but also over each other. This novel expresses history in a way that is insightful as well as entertaining and I can’t help but think that more people, particularly young people, would be interested in history if it was always offered up in such a way.
‘What a boon man is to the world, helpfully clearing away its original inhabitants to make room for their grubby dwellings and mewling spawn. You really have to hand it to them — they’ve taken a pristine wilderness that spanned the globe and brought it to heel with their concrete and firearms and technology. For this, they must be congratulated. Without their intervention, the world would be little more than a ramshackle, overgrown Arcadia.’
‘Hominids tend to overlook the truth because they are too lazy to bother seeking it themselves. They prefer to be told what to do and what to think. A fatal flaw in their character, which will forever hold them back from reaching their true potential.’
This novel offers such an intelligent discourse on the state of the planet today, and while you can’t help but feel as though the situation is dire (let’s be honest, it is), there is also hope offered at the end, not just for our planet, but for us as well, flawed hominids that we are. Mammoth is an exceptional novel, both in its vision and execution. I’m not entirely sure if this review has done this novel the justice it deserves, but I highly recommend it to all, from teenagers onwards, and feel certain that you will be hard pressed to put it down once you have started.
‘We have another chance now. We know what is required. We know what we’re doing, so don’t worry, my puny two-legged friends. We’ll take it from here.’
Thanks is extended to UQP for providing me with a review copy of Mammoth.
About the Author:
Chris Flynn is the author of The Glass Kingdom and A Tiger in Eden, which was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The Age, The Australian, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Australian Book Review, The Saturday Paper, Smith Journal, The Big Issue, Monster Children, McSweeney’s and many other publications. He has conducted interviews for The Paris Review and is a regular presenter at literary festivals across Australia. Chris lives on Phillip Island, next to a penguin sanctuary.
Mammoth by Chris Flynn (UQP $32.99)
Released 28th April 2020