Book Review: “The Map of Time”

By Felix J. Palma

ISBN-13: 9781439167397

If someone were to ask me what literary genre  The Map of Time would most sufficiently fit into, I would say science fiction. This is fine. Yet, upon reflection, the book also could be called adventure, romance, biography—possibly even speculative fiction. Normally, I’d consider this a good thing. Variety is the spice of life, right? However, with The Map of Time, this can sometimes get distracting.

Don’t get me wrong. A great deal of this novel, Spanish-born Palma’s first in English, is a veritable pastiche in the manner of Victorian fiction that is in the end fascinating, especially in terms of characterization, and its commentary on reality and how we can – or sometimes cannot – perceive it.

Presented in three parts, with HG Wells, along with Gilliam Murray, owner of Murray’s Time Travel, as the characters that link the stories together, the book begins with Andrew Harrington, rich boy made suicidal by the death of his prostitute amour by Jack the Ripper eight years earlier. His cousin, with the help of HG Wells and his eponymous Time Machine, brings Andrew to his senses.  Parts of this episode were captivating, such as the story of how the Harringtons became wealthy, and well written – even occasionally amusing. Still, I found the maudlin, whinging Andrew more than I could bear, and frequently envisioned myself slapping him upside the head to get him to wake up and fly right: after all, he first fell in love with Marie Kelly (known to history as Mary Kelly, Red Jack’s last victim) after seeing her in a painting owned by his father.  An interesting take on alternate timelines and how our perception of reality can be changed through means both scientific and theatrical?  Yes.  A well-written romance…not so much.

Part two also features a romance between wealthy, but bored, Victorian Claire Haggerty and near-destitute Tom, aka Derek Shackleton, saviour of the world in the year 2000. This unlikely partnering comes afoul of terrible troubles before its resolution in which, again, HG Wells is a major player.  What is real and what is fantasy?  That depends on who is looking at the situation and how they perceive, or choose, to perceive it.

In the final section, Wells must not only fight for his life, but for the life and authorship of his unpublished novel The Invisible Man, as well as Dracula and The Golden Bowl, which brings Wells, Bram Stoker and Henry James together in 50 Berkeley Square – by some accounts the most haunted place in London (some believe this even today). This is where the actual ‘Map of Time’ comes into play. The plot embraces adventure, time travel, mystery and crime fiction in an imaginative storyline that bring to an end – not a wholly satisfying one – a novel of more than 600 pages.

The Map of Time wants to be a kind of imitation of Victorian melodramatic literature, and mostly accomplishes that feat; although at times the narrative is verbose and overwritten to where I found myself saying “Get ON with it!” in many spots.  The omniscient, and often smug, narrator frequently adds to this effect, often breaking the fourth wall to the point of distraction. If you’ve ever wanted to put your hands over your ears and begin chanting ‘lalalalala” when someone just won’t shut up, you’ll understand what I mean. Certainly it’s not always that annoying and, many times, it is amusing and adds much to the story.  There just could have been less of it.

I found the best parts of the book to be the insight into characters’ pasts, for example, John Merrick (the ‘Elephant Man’), whose story I found moving and gripping, and that of HG Wells which, although fantastical in spots, brought new and vital life to his character.

Overall, I think the book is a good read.  Certainly it has garnered much critical acclaim since its 2011 publication. If you can get through the first 100 pages, you’re in for a fun ride.

 – Suzanne Stevens

Suzanne Stevens, 55, has spent most of her life being creative, and has been writing from a very early age. After almost 30 years in advertising/PR, she decided to follow a few different paths, including writing (which she still loves), especially travel writing, painting, jewelry design and photography.  Soon she’ll be selling her photographs online at suzannestevens.artfire.com, where she still sells handmade jewelry. Stay tuned…

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