Books About Time
It’s surprising that there aren’t more books written about time, and the changing way in which we perceive it.
Martin Amis wrote ‘Time’s Arrow’, a reverse-time chronology of moral compromise and Auschwitz, a powerful, bleak, and of necessity ugly read that nevertheless catches the sense of time being ultimately irreversible. Far lighter was Jack Finney’s ‘Time and Again’, in which illustrator Si takes part in a top-secret programme, stepping out of his twentieth-century New York apartment into January 1882. What makes this unusual is that Si has photographed his adventures, lending an already involving book greater veracity. At the end the hero elects to remain in the past, but in the belated sequel he is required to return to what is now the future.
In ‘Life After Life’, Kate Atkinson tells us the story of Ursula through the first part of the 20th century, and we see the various fates which may or may not have befallen her, including death from influenza and a bad marriage. It’s a very feminine tale (there are few male characters) but refreshingly so, and Atkinson delineates each change in her heroine’s life with immense clarity.
In Ken Grimwood’s wonderful fantasy novel ‘Replay’, the hero finds himself waiting for the past to catch up, as he keeps falling in love with the same woman at the wrong period in their lives, and you wonder if they’ll ever be in synch.
Time usually concerns itself with choices made, and time travel, which in turn leads to longing and regret. There are romances, from ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger to ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ by Natasha Pulley, in which a Japanese man appears to have broken the linearity of time travel.
Short fiction lends itself rather well to time travel fiction, the best volume of which is ‘The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century’ chosen by Harry Turtledove and Martin H Greenberg. While I wanted to enjoy ‘The Time Traveller’s Almanac’ by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, I found the same problem recurring with these editors that I’ve experienced before – namely that the gigantic tomes they produce favour size over discerning choices.
In many ways, Ray Bradbury is the finest time author because he has such a clear grasp on past, present and future, and how they interrelate – you can pick up any of his collections and find melancholic tales of pasts lost and future not explored.