I enjoy books that play with the concept of time–jumping through time, creating parallel universes, telling a story backwards. Here are three books along this theme that I recommend:
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
- The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
- Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
If you want to know more about each book…
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
This is a really fun read that will engage your brain while reading. At its heart, this book is basically about the romance and marriage of Henry and Clare. However, they have one big obstacle that both enhances and disrupts their relationship. Although Clare lives her life in the more “normal” way (by progressing through time linearly), Henry is a bit different. Henry was born with a genetic disorder (Chrono Displacement) that causes him to jump back and forth through time randomly. He can’t really control where and when he goes, but his time travel is limited to events, people and place that happen in his regular “linear” life. They meet when Clare is just a child and the grown-up Henry literally “pops” into her life. They form a relationship that changes as Clare ages and meets the grown-up Henry in real “linear” life (but of course he doesn’t know who she is because in his linear life, he hasn’t met her yet). I hope this makes sense; if it doesn’t, the book may not either. This is a “high concept” book that is executed in an interesting and fun way. The book’s narration alternates between Clare and Henry and jumps around throughout in time–just like their own relationship. You have to keep on your toes when reading, but the author does a brilliant job of putting everything together in a satisfying way. You get to experience their relationship in much the same way as Henry and Clare–getting a piece of the puzzle here, another piece there. Besides the time travel element, the book is a wonderful romance with depth and emotion. I must admit I cried at the end. This was one of the most interesting and satisfying books I read last year.
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
I didn’t know anything about this book or the author (a woman, by the way) when I got it. The thing that hooked me was the description in the Quality Paperback Book Club blurb–”the book version of the movie Sliding Doors.” If you enjoyed that movie, the concept is much the same: A woman reaches a crossroads in life and then you get to see the “parallel universes” that unfold based on the decision she makes at the critical time. In the movie, the pivotal moment was whether or not she got on a train at a precise time. In the book, the pivotal moment takes place after a birthday dinner (hence, the title.) The woman making the choice is Irina McGovern–a children’s book illustrator (a choice of profession that I immensely enjoyed reading about). Irina’s crossroads comes in her choice of man. What happens if she stays with Lawrence–her tried and true live-in love? What happens if she chooses Ramsey–the dashing and exciting snooker player? After a few “linear” chapters, the book’s chapters alternate between life with Lawrence and life with Ramsey. The author does a brilliant job of intertwining the two just enough that you get a real sense of connection between the two universes. I loved the choices she made for each parallel universe–just when I think I know where one of the stories is going, she changes it up. I really struggled with what I thought was Irina’s “right” choice. (Don’t we all when faced with choosing a mate?) I love that she made it so gray–just like real life. The ending is very satisfying, and I think it allows each reader to project their own “reality” onto Irina’s life. I know who I felt Irina ultimately chose, but I definitely think another reader could go another way. That is the fun and brilliance of this book!
Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
I confess that I read this book quite a while ago (probably 10+ years ago), so the details are a little hazy. But the idea of the book stayed with me after all this time–so it must have made an impression on me (and books that make an impression or worth reading!). I remembered that I liked the book because the author chose to tell a life story backwards–starting at the end and moving toward birth. I remember being intrigued by this idea so I bought it. When preparing to write this little description, I went to Amazon.com to refresh my memory on the details and then it started coming back to me bit by bit. The person whose story the author choose to tell is a Nazi. Obviously, this is not just any old character and life, but one charged with significance and loaded with provocation. Because I don’t think I could accurately write the description of how the book works, I’m borrowing the quick description from the Amazon.com review: “He puts two separate consciousnesses into the person of one man, ex-Nazi doctor Tod T. Friendly. One identity wakes at the moment of Friendly’s death and runs backwards in time, like a movie played in reverse, (e.g., factory smokestacks scrub the air clean,) unaware of the terrible past he approaches. The “normal” consciousness runs in time’s regular direction, fleeing his ignominious history.” I remember being filled with dread and anticipation of how the one identity was going to confront the truth of his past. It is a thought-provoking read and, again, does an interesting job of playing with time.
Can you recommend a book that “plays with time” like the ones listed above? If so, please write the book title, author and quick book description in the comments section. I would love to find more books along this line and your recommendations will help enhance this post!