Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Map of Time

Felix J. Palma's novel, The Map of Time, is a deceptive little thing, and by "little," I mean gargantuan three-parter. It's an unusual (but not unheard of) read for me for two reasons: 1) it's written by a man, and 2) it's not young adult fiction. The Map of Time is not a lot of things. For instance, most of it is not about real time travel (and by "real," I mean that which is considered real in a fictional world); two of the three parts have to do with people pretending they have time machines. Additionally, the novel is not about one person. Each part focuses on a different main character or two, and though they are all woven together into the story as a whole, it's somewhat upsetting and wearying to swap main characters like that and, for the most part, be done with their stories while two-thirds or a third of the book remains.

So, what is this strange, not-so-little novel about? Set in Victorian England, The Map of Time is about the sensational stir the idea of time travel causes after the publication of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. Mr. Wells, in fact, makes appearances in all three parts of the book and stars in the third. In Part One, a man loses his lover to Jack the Ripper and wishes to go back in time to kill the man before the murder takes place. In Part Two, a woman falls in love with a Captain from the future but does not realize he is merely an actor, and he, unwilling to crush her spirit, concocts an elaborate hoax to keep her from finding out the truth. In Part Three, H.G. Wells attempts to help solve a murder case in which the assault weapon appears to be futuristic and the words of a novel he's barely finished and not yet shown to anyone are scrawled on the wall above the victim.

The plot may sound intriguing here, but it annoyed me to no end while reading it. The first of the three stories is about a man who falls in love with a prostitute. Okay, who am I to judge? I love the book Redeeming Love, by Francine Rivers, which is all about a man falling in love with a prostitute. But is it love if the relationship is based wholly on sex and the man pays for every encounter? Call me crazy...but I think not. The second story is about a man who takes advantage of a woman falling in love with the person he is pretending to be and tricking her into getting into bed with him though they don't know each other. And might I reiterate, all this takes place in Victorian England. Though I'm well aware that there were prostitutes at that time, too, I'm not convinced that every wife was a cold, dead fish in bed and that every man was a hormonal sex machine like the book so ridiculously implies. Not one of the men in the book stays true to one woman all his life. Jane Austen is turning over in her grave.

It was kind of ironic to me that after the author seemed to have no scruples about writing about sex, he suddenly veered away from a bedroom scene he had been meticulously and detailedly leading up to. But the "Aha" moment came later when the scene was described in detail through a letter. The only defense I can offer up for such writing is that it is presented more or less factually and not too graphically. It's a little crude at parts, but it doesn't dwell or sensationalize. Still, I was rather stupefied as to why two-thirds of a novel that was supposedly about time was spent talking about fake time machines and relationships based entirely upon sex. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that modern "literature" takes on the face of modern people, even if it is set in other eras. But I'd rather be surprised by a novel that exudes talent and goodness. Do those exist anymore? I used to think young adult fiction (which, I remind you, this is not) was beginning to have more sex in it than adult fiction, but I think it's all the same. Both genres have it, and the only difference is how the author approaches the subject. I've been happy lately, however, to find slightly less of it in the young adult novels I've been reading. Maybe I'm just learning to pick my titles better.

The minor redeeming value of The Map of Time is the way it is written. It has a lyrical quality and reads beautifully, which is all the more remarkable since the book is translated from Spanish. The narration is quirky, too, as the narrator addresses the reader directly, frequently reminds the reader that he is omniscient in the story, and ends the book by having H.G. Wells suggest that in a parallel world somewhere someone might be writing about him, wink, wink.

You might wonder why I, self-proclaimed morality gateway to book and movie entertainment, would continue reading this book after the first part's dismaying plot line. I think the gist of it was curiosity (I was searching for that blasted real time machine!) and the compelling readability of the book. I kept thinking, this will get better just around the corner, and though it eventually did, it may have been too little too late. If you want to wade through the odd, morally ambiguous plot to get to the glimmers some people are calling "brilliant," it's your call. But if you trust me, take my word for it and read something a little less gutter-stuck and a bit more satisfactorily happy. I'll let you know if I find such a thing in reviews to come.

1 comment:

  1. Man, I'm glad you read it before me, cuz now I'm not wasting my time!


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