Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Man in the Holocene has two distinctive features: It is peppered with excerpts from reference works and it is very short. Both of these features place the work outside the realm of the traditional novel, edging it closer to a genre sometimes called antifiction. Antifiction characteristically uses devices that call attention to the structure of the work or to the authorial presence behind the text. Traditional fiction, on the other hand, tries to create a fully imaginative world or alternative reality in which the reader can lose himself. For the writer of antifiction, the very idea of fiction as an escape is romantic and inappropriate. The style of Man in the Holocene, then, is consistent with its theme; both the form and the content of the book are rigorously unsentimental and economical. No doubt some readers would also find that these adjectives seem appropriate for the work of a Swiss writer.

In the context of Frisch’s other work, Man in the Holocene perpetuates the theme of the quest for identity found in his earlier works. Whereas earlier works explored the possibility of adopting a new identity as easily as a new name, Man in the Holocene ultimately repudiates the very meaning of identity in the face of eternity.

Man in the Holocene is likely to remain one of the most widely read of Frisch’s novels; it is an important contribution to the relatively small canon of Swiss writings known outside the German-speaking community.