Monday, March 18, 2013

The Map of Time

The title:  The Map of Time
The author: Felix J. Palma
Publication: Atria Books, 2011
Got it from: The library

I finished this book awhile ago and put off writing anything about it, because there is just so much to say that I don't think I'm going to do it justice.  This book was originally published in Spanish and was such a huge bestseller that it was translated for the English-speaking market.  I was drawn to this book because I am fascinated by time travel.  And as it turned out, this book was nothing like what I expected.  First of all, the cover copy purports that the book is about H.G. Wells investigating the disappearance of classic novels in time.  In truth this is only a small part of the book, and not even the way you expect.

The Map of Time is essentially three long novellas with three separate but inter-related plots.  Several characters, including H.G. Wells, make appearances in all of them.  The best way I can describe the stories is that they are nesting dolls that reveal more and more with each new chapter.  

The first story is about Andrew, a dissolute young man who is drawn to a prostitute named Mary Kelly.  Anyone with a passing interest in Victorian history will recognize her as one of Jack the Ripper's victims.  When she is murdered, Andrew becomes consumed with grief and seeks a chance to rectify the past through time travel.  In this story we first encounter Wells and the mysterious and sinister Gilliam Murray, whose story and motives become more clear throughout the novel.

The second story is set up like a classic romance novel.  Claire Haggerty has a chance to travel to the year 2000 on one of Gilliam Murray's expeditions to the future.  She becomes infatuated with the hero of the future, Captain Shackleton, whom she sees defeat the automaton armies.  I can't say too much more about this story because it will ruin the pleasure of the surprise, but it builds on the reader's knowledge from the first story, so that we are aware not everything is as it seems.  

The third story is quite science fiction-y.  After the twists and turns of the first two stories, the reader isn't quite sure what is true.  This story involves a time-traveller from the future who is trying to prevent the theft of a trio of classic Victorian novels all being written at the same time.  Again, I can't say too much, but by now the reader has learned a valuable lesson not to trust anyone in the story.  

My feelings really changed as I was reading this story, and it's hard for me to discuss what I loved about it without giving anything away.  The first story was the most difficult for me to read, as the descriptions of Jack the Ripper's killings were gruesome and awful.  I loved the romance story the most.  The first two stories were really more about human nature and the Victorian fascination with time travel after the publication of The Time Machine than they were about actual time travel.  The third story goes more into the consequences of our actions and their outcome on the future (and possibly past, in the case of time travel).  Even though the book was about 700 pages long, I found myself completely engrossed and turning the pages quickly.  I highly recommend this strange, intriguing book to anyone.

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