BOOK CLUB: Mammoth

Author: Chris Flynn
ISBN: 978-0-7022-6274-6

Copy courtesy of University of Queensland Press

Mammoth is Chris Flynn’s third published book and the first of his works that I have read. I was unsure what to expect from a book narrated by a thirteen thousand three hundred and fifty-four-year-old fossil skeleton of an extinct mammoth and without a doubt, this book is a very different offering.

We first meet our narrator, referred to throughout the book as Mammut, as he reminisces about the first time he killed a man, and what drove him to do so, before he is interrupted and brought back to the book’s present, the year 2007, awaiting the natural history auction to be conducted in Manhattan New York.  

Mammut’s interrupter is Tyrannosaurus bataar, a distant relative to the more well-known dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex, who states he died sixty-seven million years ago, long before the “Amateur” Mammut even walked the earth.

Mammut then proceeds to tell his life story of events leading to his eventual death, how his fossilised remains were found, and reassembled into a complete skeleton (even if his tusks were incorrectly installed) and his experiences over the years. In addition to T bataar his audience includes a mummified hand that insists it belongs to Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut and a ten million-year-old Penguin, Paleospheniscus patagonis. Along the way the other fossils provide information about their own deaths, how they were found, and how they have ended up at the auction site, in between sniping at Mammut and each other.

Although this is a relatively short book (254 pages) with a clear easy to read font  I found it to be heavy work to read.  Mammut’s telling of his story is ponderous and, as noted by his audience, Mammut clearly likes the sound of his own voice.  His tale also puts T bataar to sleep at one point (and I’m quite sure if I was listening to the tale rather than reading it I too would have been lulled to sleep).  Flynn tries to create breaks in the monologue with interruptions from the other fossils, but this only works to some extent. 

Whilst I learned much in reading the tale, as most of the characters and events are true, I was frustrated by some of the assumptions of knowledge that required me to cease reading in order to search the internet for an explanation.  The primary example of this is Flynn’s references to the hominids/bipeds who came after neanderthal man as Clovis, a term I had never heard before.  On investigation it appears that Clovis is the term for the ancestor of America’s indigenous population, those who we refer to as Red Indians, it would have been helpful if this had been explained within the context of the book (even as a footnote).

The reviews selected for the back cover of the book all refer to Flynn’s book in terms of being playful, hilarious, and funny.  While there is the odd amusing moment within the book I am unable to agree with this view.  I do however agree that Mammoth provides a “fascinating journey from the Pleistocene epoch to nineteenth-century America and beyond, revealing how ideas about science and religion have shaped our world.”

Overall Mammoth represents an unusual and different way of revealing the past, and reflecting on man’s impact on the world in which we live and our future.  Thanks to Beauty and Lace Book Club and Queensland University Press for the opportunity to read and review Mammoth by Chris Flynn.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading Mammoth by Chris Flynn. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

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