Roy Lewis makes us live a version of human evolution through a humourous
story about a prehistoric Pleistocene family. Ernest, the narrator, is a part of a
small horde living in Africa and whose first evolution is to develop from
vegetarian to omnivore, forcing him to come down from the trees to the
savannah where the game lives. But the fight for survival is a harsh and
pitiless struggle between species.
Luckily, Edward, leader of the horde and Ernest's father, is a great inventor
and a visionnary whose ambition is more or less to favor the evolution of the
Fire, which in the first instance is only tamed, brings security, the certainty of
inhabiting the most vast and comfortable caves, and of course, heat. From
there a new way of life develops for the horde and continues to progress,
despite some failures. In the first instance, only Uncle Vania seems immune
to this progress that he finds too rapid, and that, according to him, threatens
to one day destroy the human race; the mastery of fire being compared, in a
twisted fashion, to atomic fusion that is the creation of the atomic bomb.
Then Ernest also begins little by little to worry about his father's inventions
and especially the latter's desire to transmit his knowledge to whosoever will,
at the risk of the herd losing its supremacy over other pithecanthropes.
Having rallied the rest of the tribe to his point of view, the decison is taken to
send the father, who is too old at any rate, to another world. He is killed by
his last invention, an arc, and is eaten during a banquet, in the most civilized
manner, as he would have liked.
The novel is made even more funny by the anachronistic language of the
characters who express themselves in a very cultivated manner, and whose
thoughts reflect the cultural and politcal currents of our modern world.