disclaimer: I won this book from Good Reads First Reads contest
This review originally appeared on the Good Reads website
Unsurprising for a novel about time travel, the contents of the book are not strictly chronological. Do not despair, this is not done for the purposes of obfuscation, in fact, the book is almost exactly like Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction in narrative structure. The book is told in three parts. Each of these parts is, as in Pulp Fiction, a story that stands on its own with a beginning, climax, and an end. But they all overlap with each other causing or being affected by the actions of the other story. And, the story as a whole also has a bit of an arc, again, like Pulp Fiction.
The novel is written as though it were a victorian novel which is the first level of meta that this book goes to. Since a great deal of what we consider classic literature was written during this time period, you’ve probably read something similar. The author talks to the reader as though he was someone relating a story. However, because it was written in modern times, in this particular book, he even gets cheeky and put me in the mindset of the narrator of The Discworld novels or the first entry in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Pentology. There is a lot lampshade hanging, or pointing out when tropes are happening and inviting us to laugh along. For example when he points out the possible frustration the reader might have that no time travel has taken place by page 60.
And that’s a great time to talk about the author’s style. He tends to meander a lot. He goes off on tangents exploring what the characters are thinking or into their pasts for pages on end. The author uses the excuse that the characters are currently doing something boring so instead of following them along, we can talk about other stuff. Which is great if you’re actually a god following them around. But, there’s a reason we don’t see every character in a movie (or book) brush their teeth, go to the bathroom, tie their shoes – because we don’t need to. The author or director chooses what we need to see (Chekhov’s Gun and all that) So the author’s attempts at being cute can come across as annoying. There are times when it makes sense – he’s waiting to reveal what’s actually happening for later. There are other times where you wish he’d have found a way to break up the info with some present day action. It took until page 44 to get to the point where I wanted to make sure I would finish the novel. I’ve definitely had worse. There was a John Grisham book I didn’t care about until the middle of the book. But I definitely found myself yelling at him to get on with it, especially once the time travel finally finds its way into the book. And wait until you see the ridiculously meta ending to the book.
What else do I want to get into before getting to the section with spoilers? After going through this topic on GoodReads.com, I figured it was worth mentioning these types of things in my reviews going forward. This book has sex and violence. It also may have some swearing – I’m immune to most words, hearing them daily, but there is at least one F-bomb dropped. So if you’re conservative in your morals, ethics, religion, etc to the degree that if any of these things are present you will not read a book, then do not read this books. For everyone else, I’d say that depending on your kid’s maturity level, you may want to read the book first. The violence only truly occurs in one small part. This book takes place during the time of Jack the Ripper and the aftermath of some of his gruesome acts of violence are described. As far as the sex: there is talk of and visitation to whore houses, there is premarital sex without consequences, talk of victorian sexual practices (or lack thereof because of their prudish behavior), and a few (say maybe half a dozen) descriptions of sex. Are these tasteful or pornographic? I guess that depends on your personal taste. Here’s an example from what I thought was the most graphic description within the book:
…Then your mouth, moist and eager, will cover me with kisses, leaving a trail of saliva, and once you have thoroughly charted my body, you will enter it slowly, and I will feel you moving inside me with such gentleness…
So figure it out for yourself. I didn’t find any of it to be tasteless or gratuitous for it was always central to the plot. And most of the descriptions just reference that characters were post-coital.
So now, in order to refrain from revealing anything, for this book is full of more twists than a boy scout’s knot, I’d like to plunge the next part in a spoiler tag rather than having sentences cut off into spoilers which may end up accidentally revealing the location of a twist within the narrative.
The books has plot twist after plot twist which is great because it leaves you wondering what’s real and what’s not. First you are introduced to time travel as being magic, then perhaps Welles has a mechanical version, then the twist that happens after that, then the twist where Welles is playing with the machine, then the twist that leads to the climax. It’s crazy!
It annoyed me to no end that the year 2000 wasn’t like our year 2000. While the book was written in the Victorian style, it was written in our time period so why should it be a Victorian view of the future? (with steam-powered robots) But one of the plot twists satisfactorily solved that problem for me.
If I may toot my own horn, I totally saw through the final plot twist, and I think most of you shall as well.
I thought it was quite surprising that the key prostitute was married. I know it happened and does happen from time to time, but I figure it’s probably not the norm. It made Andrew seem a little less righteous
OK, and we’re back. They do a good job dealing with time travel paradoxes – mentioning them and explaining why the solution they choose works over the others. Time travel is always a hard thing to get through. At some point you just need to not think about it too much.
Quick aside: This book, like Dracula also mentioned the Aerated Bread Company near Charing Cross as a place to take tea (neat that I read them close enough together to notice).
Finally, Palma does a good job with the characters. You end up getting a really good feeling for their motivations and you actually care about them. In fact, he does such a good job with character development, that you may end up changing your opinions about some of the characters. For me, I went back and forth on how I felt about two or three of the characters. Which reminds me, there are a lot of characters. It’s one of the largest casts of characters I’ve read about. And characters that seem to be throwaway characters in one part may be prominent or even the main character in another part. Also, he does a great job with the historical characters.
Overall, I’d say that reading Felix J Palma’s The Map of Time is like going on a roller coaster. The beginning of the book is the clanking part where you are curious about how the fall will be. You’re a little impatient, but still enjoying the ride. Then you fall and it’s great. Then you get caught in another clanking section that goes even higher. And from then until the end you’re in free fall. Going by the hover-text of Good Read’s star ratings, I end up giving it 3 stars. I liked it, but I didn’t “really like it”. He did a great job of making me race to the end once I had it within grasp (as you can see from the reading graph if that’s available to you), but it’s not a book I’m going to try force everyone to read. So don’t view the rating of 3 stars as a bad thing, take it as: this is a good book and you may enjoy it. If what I’ve written interests you, then pick it up. If it’s at your library, you like sci-fi and time trave, definitely check it out.