Friday, December 30, 2011

It is a strange trade that of advocacy. Your intellect, your highest heavenly gift is hung up in the shop window like a loaded pistol for sale.

Through a fence (mildly). Just off Sandy Bay Road. December 2011.

Just the one book this week, and not one in the holiday spirit. Time's Arrow is a rather controversial novel by Martin Amis from 1991. Essentially, the story recounts the life of a German Holocaust doctor in reverse chronology. That is, the narrator - some kind of disembodied secondary consciousness - together with the reader, experiences time passing in reverse, with the central protagonist becoming younger and younger during the course of the novel. The narrator is not exactly the protagonist himself but somehow living within him, feeling his feelings but with no access to his thoughts no control over events and somehow experiencing everything in reverse.


Obviously the point is to unsettle the reader as we confront the now familiar tale of the Holocaust (although familiarity does not itself entail understanding). Amis messes about with reverse dialogue, reverse narrative, and reverse explanation which all contribute to the narrator's persistent misinterpretation of events.

In the reversed world, not only is chronology reversed (people 'die'/'are born'), become younger, and eventually become children, then babies, and then re-enter their mothers' wombs, where they finally cease to exist ('are born'/ 'die') but so is morality. Violences heals, doctors cause harm. Theft is donation. This is a confusing world, so when the protagonist reaches Auschwitz the world begins to make sense. Good is done. Doctors help. Indeed, a whole new race is created and healed.

I wouldn't say that the book is 100% successful, but it is an interesting attempt at looking at something that doesn't make much sense from a different angle. Mildly recommended.