Not read any of Martin Amis’ stuff since I started out with The Information which I rated mediocre 6 years ago. This, was far, far better.
Time’s Arrow starts off a very disjointed read which seems to make little sense until, about five pages in, you realise that the novel is written backwards. It doesn’t seem fair to criticise Amis for using a literary gimmick that isn’t original. After all, writers do this all the time. In fact, Amis actually writes an afterword which reveals he was inspired by that famous passage in Slaughterhouse Five (which I’ve not actually read yet). Is this technique justified or just for show? In Time’s Arrow, I think it is entirely justified and that Amis has used it very well indeed.
Why so? Well. First of all, we are all prone to make judgements about the characters we meet. This is as true for those we meet in a novel as for those we meet in the street, so to speak. And so, when we find ourselves viewing the inside of someone else’s life, seeing the results of what that life has amounted to, we have very different thoughts from those that arise when we know the full story.
Amis keeps you in suspense throughout. The novel is very well crafted for exactly this purpose. You pick up clues along the way. There are more if you dig a little deeper and spend just a little more time thinking about what you are presented with. But by two thirds of the way in, you realise that the beginning is going to be far different from what you ever imagined at the end.
The book isn’t just a story told in an unconventional way. By selecting the specific character you focus on, Amis has allowed his novel to raise questions of identity, guilt and innocence, cause and effect. We are forced to confront our own prejudices and to take a long hard look at how time both constrains and conveys us. Are we then to reach different conclusions about different people acting under the same circumstances but in very different times?
This is a novel that would benefit a great deal from a second reading, once you know where it is coming from. I found myself going back to earlier passages and re-reading them in light of what I’d just discovered. By doing so, I think I was doing exactly what Amis had intended: taking a fresh look at situations and people I’d already made my mind up about and realising that I had been quite wrong. It is a powerful novel that can teach us to be more humble.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | StyleRead more about how I come up with my ratings