A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea translated by Sam Taylor (2021)

Blurb

When he hears a story about a huge dinosaur fossil locked deep inside an Alpine glacier, university professor Stan finds a childhood dream reignited. Whatever it takes, he is determined to find the buried treasure.

But Stan is no mountaineer and must rely on the help of old friend Umberto, who brings his eccentric young assistant, Peter, and cautious mountain guide Gio. Time is short: they must complete their expedition before winter sets in. As bonds are forged and tested on the mountainside, and the lines between determination and folly are blurred, the hazardous quest for the Earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.

This breathless, heartbreaking epic-in-miniature speaks to the adventurer within us all.

Review

Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

This novel combines two things that I have very little knowledge or experience of, but am oddly fascinated by: palaeontology and mountaineering. There are elements that reminded me of the documentary Touching The Void (which I was also weirdly obsessed with!) as we see the men facing life-threatening conditions on the mountain. The descriptions in the novel are so vivid and cinematic: I think this might be the only book I’ve read that has actually given me vertigo.

The writing is exquisite. So many times, I went back to reread a sentence in order to fully appreciate its beauty. For a book that spans a mere 170 pages, it feels much fuller than some longer novels, and the brevity of both the text as a whole and the sentences creates a sense of impact and motion. The book works on many levels – as a straight-up adventure story it is exciting and tense, but beneath the thrills there are some beautifully profound observations on life and meaning and even the very nature of reality.

There is drama here, but also humour, the eccentricities of individuals heightened by the extreme circumstances and close quarters. The narrative ebbs and flows between the mountain-top adventure and scenes from the past, and it is never less than compelling. The figure of Stan’s father, the Commander, looms large and terrifying, and some of the most powerful scenes in the novel are between the tyrannical father and his son. The contrast between the domestic setting and life on the glacier is yet another aspect that gives this book so much depth and resonance. For both backstory and main narrative to be so nuanced and complex is an astounding feat for such a short novel. And yet the length feels just right – a suspension of breath for the space of its crisp, perfect pages, and an exhalation on finishing that feels cathartic, cleansing as cold mountain air.

There’s a special feeling on finishing a book that you KNOW you’re going to reread – it becomes a kind of treasure, a reassurance just to know you have it and can return to it again and again. This is a book to become obsessed with – I certainly am.

A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea translated by Sam Taylor is published by Gallic Books, and this gorgeous new paperback edition is available to purchase here.

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