Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 4, 2011

The Map of Time (2008), by Felix J, Palma, translated by Nick Caistor

The Map of TimeThis is a daft book, but it’s strangely compelling.

The Map of Time is the bizarre story of gentleman Andrew Harrington, still mourning after eight years the death of his beloved, a Whitechapel whore.  She was one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, and Andrew is much exercised by his belief that he saw the killer just before he did his evil deed and could/should have prevented her murder.  So much so that in 1896 he is on the verge of suicide when his cousin Charles intervenes, offering the opportunity for time travel so that Andrew can alter the course of history.  This seems appealing to Andrew, but there are – um – technical difficulties involving the forward and backward momentum of time; Murray’s Time Travel Inc;  H.G. Wells and an inspirational wicker basket with connections to the Elephant Man;  and miscellaneous acts of chicanery.

Part II introduces Claire Haggerty, bored out of her brain by Victorian society and keen to escape it.  She’s a pre-feminism feminist who wants a life of her own but has an alarming predisposition to be swayed by her hormones (though she knows not what they are).  Yes, she too is a Time-travel Tragic and while wandering about in the future she falls in love with Derek Shackleton, hero of – um – a battle between automatons and mankind.  Time travel being the perennially unreliable phenomenon it always is in fiction, she can’t stay in the year 2000 but Shackleton risks all to make it back to 1896.  But all is not as it seems, of course.

H.G.Wells as puppet-master holds the story together.  In Part I his intervention alters poor sad Andrew’s past; in Part II he acts to bring together Claire’s present and Derek’s future, and in Part III – well, to be honest, I never really figured out Part III.

So you may well ask, does this nonsense of a plot work?  While not exactly a page-turner, (or not for me, anyway) it’s entertaining in the way that some novels which tax credibility can be.  The melodrama sweeps the reader along; the tragic hero is so inept and yet so noble in his disastrous love; his fond cousin is so extravagant in his efforts to heal the wounded soul; the love between Claire and Shackleton is so bizarre; and H.G. Wells is so batty that one simply has to read on to see how Palma extricates the plot from its tangle.  For those exercised by the existential issues to do with time travel there are philosophical quandaries to ponder, and the roll call of famous identities includes Bram Stoker and Henry James. What more could you ask?

James Bradley was snooty about it at The Australian, Anna Hedigan at the Radio National Book Show had no time for it at all but Steve Donoghue at liked its’ irrepressible gusto, metafictional conceits, and a Fieldingesque busy-body narrator who promises (slyly) to reveal things “all in good time,’’ ‘.  And I (kind of) liked it too.

© Lisa Hill

Author: Felix J. Palma
Title: The Map of Time
Translator: Nick Caistor
Publisher: Scribe 2011
ISBN: 9781921844119
EISBN: 9781921942044
Source: Review copy courtesy of Scribe

Fishpond: The Map of Time
Scribe Online

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