Time's Arrow - Martin Amis

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  • Last Post 29 May 2015
saintbletch posted this 28 May 2015 - Last edited 28 May 2015

OK, this is the third attempt at this review. Both previous attempts lost when stupidly closing the browser mid-edit.

[Mild Spoiler Alert - Nothing much more than you would find in the 'jacket' description on Amazon.]

I've read some weird stuff over the years, but this has to be one of the strangest books I've ever read - simply because it tells its story backwards.

My son recommended it to me as his girlfriend read it as part of her english literature degree. He read it in order to knowledgeably proof-read the essay she subsequently wrote. You can see why it was on the reading list, because it's a brilliantly technical piece of writing. I'm still not sure if I enjoyed it or not, but as I'm compelled to write about it here, I guess it has had an impact.

When I say it tells its story backwards, it's not simply a Benjamin Button affair where events progress normally, but ageing reverses.

No, in Time's Arrow everything book happens backwards. Birds cheap backwards, words and sentences come out backwards, prostitutes give money to clients after sex and shit makes its way back into bodies on the toilet each morning.

You can't relax and assimilating what is going on is quite a challenge. Or at least it was for this reader. You have to read a passage, think it through, consider what events would have been like told the other way, and then finally you start to understand the flow of the narrative - and all of that before you start to consider the emotions or motivations of the characters.

It's actually quite tiring - pehaps why I don't know if I enjoyed the book.

Dialogue is the most difficult part. Words in sentences appear in the correct order, but the sentence are in reverse order. Amis has done very well here as he has chosen dialogue that actually reads 'well' both ways, and it's not until you've read it all that you realise what is going on - usually requiring you to scan the dialogue in reverse to see the flow of the conversation.

The voice of the book is also unusual. As you might expect, the book opens with the death of the main character - Tod Friendly, sees him come back to life on the operating table, and then follows his 'recuperation', recovery and then examines the rest of his life - told backwards.

It's never explicitly explained who the narrator is, but it becomes 'clear' that it is an inner voice in Tod's mind. It is Tod, but it isn't Tod.

Like the reader, the narrator has to come to terms with things happening backwards and 'he' struggles to work out what is going on too. He also can't communicate with Tod - he too, like us, is an observer and he feels helpless as he watches the other Tod doing things he shouldn't.

By the end of the book, you're left suspecting that this might be a part of Tod's psyche that had been locked away due to some bad shit he'd done earlier in his life.

And yes, Tod did some bad shit. You follow his life as a doctor in the US, back through his emigration to the US from Europe, his changing his name from his native German, his hiding from something in the countryside of Italy, and through to the time he spent as a doctor in the death camps of Auschwitz and beyond.

We learn that Tod was part of the medical team at Auschwitz where we see him doing great work - bringing Jews back to life, helping to extract poisons from their bodies, etc.

Ironically, and undoubtedly intentionally on the part of the author, seeing the evil events at Auschwitz told backwards to achieve happy outcomes actually has more impact. Your brain has to take in the narrative, reverse it and consider the implication.

As I said, it's an odd, but very powerful book. If you fancy challenging yourself take a read. 

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18 Comments
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Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

i remember that happened in red dwarf one time beltch have you seen that episode that is what happened in red dwarf

saintbletch posted this 28 May 2015

Bear, you complete twat!

If you're going to ruin the plot of something, please include a [Spoiler Alert] warning.

Now I won't get to enjoy that Red Dwarf episode.

Actually, I thought they all went backwards - then again I'm not the greatest Red Dwarf fan. 

BTW and FYI, you appear to have inadvertently and repeatedly spelled my name as beltch instead of bletch.

P.S. Did you know there is a word pun in a grammatically ambiguous term like Red Dwarf fan?

I can explore that concept at length if you want - and I will do if I'm referred to a beltch again.

Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

pap pls can you change his username to saintbeltch to avoid confusion pls tks

Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

woah you can change ur own usernames look how easy it is! Maybe i will be saintbeltch myself for a few days! Maybe then I will be hypochondriac and Turkish and stevegrant and everyone! 

Gr8 feature!

Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

Edit: Pap can you fix it so people can't be Bearsy while I'm being someone else pls cos otherwise tokyos will steal Bearsy + start posting gay porn i know what he is like 

saintbletch posted this 28 May 2015

At 14:32 on the 28th May 2015, Bearsy became self-aware.

pap!

PAP!

Bear's broken papsweb.

Chwat.

Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

No, saintbletch. Consider yourself banned.

saintbletch posted this 28 May 2015

pap, you appear to have changed your avatar to the one that Bearsy uses, and you've also carelessly added a full stop at the end of your user name.

Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

shut up ur banned i have sent ur personal details to bin laden and told him you said "mohammeds is gay"

saintbletch posted this 28 May 2015

Oh, OK papster it is you after all.

Sorry mate.

Won't happen again.

pap posted this 28 May 2015

Originally posted by pap.

shut up ur banned i have sent ur personal details to bin laden and told him you said "mohammeds is gay"

Bear.   Don't abuse the change your own username function or I'll disable it permanently and rename you "Tokyo's Bottom Bitch"

Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

yeah give a bear sweets + tell him don't eat them. See how that works out for you pap!

Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

I'm gonna give lou a shock when she logs on!

pap posted this 28 May 2015

Originally posted by hypochondriac

I'm gonna give lou a shock when she logs on!

Don't make me do it, Bear!

Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015

Man, can i at least have just a couple of other usernames i can switch between? I feel like on i.e. Mondays and Wednesdays i would want to be i.e. Dr. Rosenpenis, and on i.e. weekends i want to be known as i.e. Boner pls.

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saintbletch posted this 28 May 2015

Diplomoderation in operation.

'played papster.

Bear - you used to be so anti-establishment.

You are the John Lydon of papsweb, and this thread is your Can't Believe it's not Butter ad.

"Our heroes always betray us, and our ultimate heroes betray us completely."

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Bearsy posted this 28 May 2015 - Last edited 28 May 2015

you wrong me! I was just changing my username to CUNTFUCK69 when pap instigated enforced management name-change and now i'm stuck being stupid bear 4eva 

Fowllyd posted this 29 May 2015

Back with the original topic (as Laughing Len observed, it seems so long ago)...

I haven't read Time's Arrow, though I have read a fair number of Amis' novels; in fact, I've just started reading The Pregnant Widow, in which one of the characters posits a theory regarding men's attraction to breasts that I recently saw on this very forum.

However, the plot as explained above by Bletch does put me in mind of a novel by the late Philip K Dick, Counter-Clock World, in which time is also going backwards, having already gone as far forward as it can. In this novel, people pull uneaten food from their mouths and insert 'sogum' into their rectums. The dead return to life, though they often fail to make it as they need help to emerge from their coffins.

I can't remember much of the plot, as it's years since I read it. I do remember that DIck doesn't do anything remotely as smart with the dialogue as Amis though.