Palafox is Eric Chevillard’s third book to be translated into English; the other two, The Crab Nebula and On the Ceiling, were respectively about a semi-mythical figure named Crab whose personality and physical features were insistently nebulous, and about a man who wears a chair upside down on his head. The flux and absurdity of both those books is manifest in Palafox as well.
The titular figure of this novel is a strange creature that pops out of an egg at the breakfast table and then is adopted as a pet before being subjected to scientific scrutiny. Remarkably fluid in physical appearance, Palafox seems at time to have a break, at other times to be closer to an octopus, sometimes big enough to be capable of killing livestock, sometimes small enough to eat out a beet from within. He has tusks, has scales, has whiskers, weaves webs, has little pink hands, has no limbs at all, has feathers, etc. A cadre of scientists brought in to examine Palafox end up only sowing even greater confusion as to his nature.
By this proliferation of often contradicting details, Chevillard lampoons science and epistemology and creates a sense of a creature that is both very vivid and completely ungraspable, offering the reader an experience that is as disturbing and absurdly funny as it is sublime. Indeed, the current American new fabulism could learn a great deal from this very amusing book and its willingness to take real narrative risks all the more impressive considering that it was first published in France almost 15 years ago. Beautifully translated by Wyatt Mason (who has also translated Rimbaud and Pierre Michon), Palafox is a must for anyone interested in anti-realist fiction.