I’m not sure how I’m going to write about Felix Palma’s The Map of Time without getting deep into spoiler territory. Normally, I can get away with a mostly vague summary of the plot(s), slap on my hypothesis about what I think the book is trying to say, and sign off with a recommendation about whether it’s worth reading or not. But the plots of this book are so inextricably bound up in what the book is about that I don’t think I can tease them apart without going into such detail about the plot that I will pretty much ruin the experience for anyone else who wants to read the book. Plus, I have some serious reservations about whether this is a good book or not and I am dying to criticize it (in more than the academic sense).
Let’s see how far I can get before I resort to the spoiler warnings. Anyone reading this should probably brace themselves anyway.
The Map of Time is divided into three unequal sections. All three are linked by characters and events. What changes is the perspective of the narrator–an omniscient character who repeatedly claims the ability to see everything, everywhere. This narrator pops up sporadically, and it’s easy to forget his presence until he announces himself again.
The first section of the book contains the story of Andrew Harrington, a rich somewhat dissolute man who has the misfortune (in more than one sense) to fall in love with Mary Kelly, a Whitechapel prostitute who is doomed to be one of Jack the Ripper’s victims. After her death, Harrington numbs himself with drugs and alcohol for eight years before deciding to try and kill himself. His cousin and friend, Charles Winslow, however, concocts a wild plan involving the writer H.G. Wells to help Harrington change history and save his lost love.
The second section involves a young woman who is so bored with her own time and the limitations of life for Victorian women that she convinces herself that she is in love with a romantic hero from the distant future. Wells gets involved again as the girl and the hero manage to tangle themselves up in their romance and the intricacies of time paradoxes. It’s kind of fun to watch them whip themselves into frenzy.
The third and smallest section of the book is, surprisingly and somewhat disappointingly, when the most interesting (at least for me) plot happens. This time, H.G. Wells takes center stage and finds himself fighting for his life (and the lives of fellow authors Henry James and Bram Stoker) and the future of his world as he knows it. If they entire book had consisted of this section, expanded to its full creative potential, I would have been a very happy reader. As it is, I am merely a thoughtful reader, mildly entertained.
I give up. I have to start spoiling the book. SPOILERS AHEAD.
When you read the inside jacket of the book, you expect a time travel novel. But in the first section, when Harrington ostensibly uses the time machine featured in Well’s novel, it turns out to be a fraud cooked up by Harrington’s cousin to shake him out of his suicidal funk. And in the section section, where the time travel apparently occurs through an act of magic, the whole show turns out to be a hoax as well. But in the third section, we finally get to see some “real” time travel. And that’s partly while I feel cheated. I had to read through nearly 500 pages to get to it and then it’s all over at just over the 600 page mark.
I try not to force my expectations on a book as I read it and let the author take me where they want to go. But I can’t help but feel mislead not only by the book jacket but also other reviews of the book I read. As I read The Map of Time, I was reminded of a story I’ve heard in several different versions where some tourists go into an attraction after paying a lot of money and, after realizing it’s a fraud, convince their friends to go too so that they don’t look like total rubes. The first two sections of this book are all smoke and mirrors, while the third section is over in a comparative flash. And I can’t excuse the book on the grounds of bad translation because what I’m disappointed about is the plot.
Okay, I feel a little better having gotten that out my system.
This is a hard book to sum up. I want to say the book is about fraud and deception and manipulation. But this book is also about time paradoxes and interconnectivity. Characters weave in and out of each others stories, making crucial cameos or revealing important information. It was, I’ll admit, a lot of fun to see the connections and see the stories behind the main story.
So, can I recommend this book to other readers? I’m still not sure because what you read on the inside book jacket is not what you get when you actually read the book. The book takes a long time to get going, so you’ll have to be prepared for a very slow burn before any action takes place. One other piece of advice, don’t be too tied to your expectations because this book will not by what you expect.