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The Map of Time

May 23rd, 2011 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 1 Comment · Life

The Map of Time by Felix Palma

Just finished a book called The Map of Time by Felix Palma.   It is due to be published on June 9th though it is not entirely new: it was first published in 2008 in Spanish, but this is the English translation of it.

A bit strange that it has taken so long to come out in English because it is a very English book in many ways, not least its setting of Victorian London.

This was another book from Amazon’s Vine programme, and here is what I wrote about it:I’m really impressed with this book.  It is full of twists and turns, with surprises around every corner.  A large part of the pleasure was in being surprised so often, and teased by the author, so I’ll try and avoid details which might spoil that pleasure for anybody else.

The publishers are obviously keen to draw parallels with such bestsellers as The Time Traveller’s Wife and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and those comparisons are not entirely wrong because the book is a sort of mixture of those, with loads of other ideas floating around too, including hints at the Terminator films, and all in a Victorian London setting, with a large nod to the steampunk genre.

It is a large book, split into three sections which could almost work as standalone books, but although there are three distinct plots there is a lot of overlap to the stories, and right at the end you realise just how connected everything is.  It is full of ideas, and just the right mix of historical accuracy and speculation to be enjoyable.

Time travel is the theme but instead of establishing a method of time travel, this book manages to include four different methods, continually leaving you guessing whether any of them actually work. Fictional time travel (and is there any other type?) can get complicated with all the problems of paradoxes, parallel universes, out of sequence meetings and all the rest, and the real accomplishment here is to make it so complicated and yet easy to follow.

There is the almost obligatory introduction of real-life historical figures into the story, like Bram Stoker, the Elephant Man, Jack the Ripper and some of his victims, and H.G.Wells who is really the star of the book, but all are brought into the book logically and the writer doesn’t get carried away and try to cram too many in.

The book is very stylised, with an occasionally intrusive omniscient authorial voice which could easily be annoying if done wrong.  It worked for me and stayed just the right side of the line between annoying and amusing, and the conceit does make the book stand out from the crowd.

A word of praise must also go to Nick Caistor, who translated the book from the original Spanish, which must have been quite a task, and made the language fit the ideas so well.

In many ways this is a brave book.  It does so many risky things which can easily go disastrously wrong if not done well, like referencing real events, places and people, having an unconventional authorial voice, and having a writer as a character.  Not only is the main character a witer but the book touches on how he feels about writing and that can so easily turn into self-indulgence.

Any story set in the late nineteenth century and touching on Jack the Ripper brings with it the temptation to bring Sherlock Holmes into it somehow.   In this case the temptation is sort of resisted: he is mentioned but remains entirely fictional.

As with all the best books, I’m a little sad to have finished and wish I had savoured it a bit more, but as I got more into it I was reading faster and faster because I really wanted to know whether what would happen next would be what I was expecting.  It hardly ever was, but in such a way that I was pleased to have been misdirected.

In a nutshell… read this book, its really good.

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