I must admit, I can admire this novel. While not the most adventurous of narratives in terms of story, Time’s Arrow is a masterpiece when it comes to its structure. How Amis kept his writing consistent through his unique story-telling style is beyond me. The whole story is told backwards: from events to conversations. In this way, this novel gives us a new method of viewing the world. To imagine how alien the world would be if everything was naturally played backwards is inspiring and a beautifully constructed concept. I would often step aside from the story and think of events in the real world and how they would be seen backwards: people chewing mush, to then take a fork from their mouth produce a piece of chicken, which is when sewn back to the chicken breast by a knife. It’s truly fascinating.
However, while a masterpiece when viewed structurally, this technique as a form of entertainment is quite confusing unless fully understood prior to reading. The blurb, while technically spoiling the character in terms of suspense, is more or less vital to full comprehension. Unless you’ve been told that the story reads backwards, you have a good while of being confused ahead of you before you finally realise. This is a hard one to judge because while remarkable story-telling, I feel it cuts itself off from a wide reader base.
Alongside its structure, this novel also gains interest for its setting: Nazi Germany. Historically-based novels usually flag up warning signs for anyone uninterested in History. As expected, you do have to have some general awareness of the workings of Auschwitz and the effects of World War Two on Germany for thorough understanding. Though, while those with a wide historical knowledge will probably get more out of the novel than those who don’t, the novel does integrate history in a way that is described to the reader: at least in part. It doesn’t feel like you’re being taught exactly, but hinted and reminded. The narrator: the characters unconscious, with their backwards view of the world becomes heavily unreliable in their perspective, which forces the reader to think about the differences between both views. Such complex narrative is not really something you want to read on a quiet night in with a cup of tea between watching Countdown. You have to really focus.
However, although the book is fairly hard to read and takes effort to understand, you do get a good experience at the end. The book’s main effect (and benefit) is its portrayal of this new world outlook, which is very thought provoking: especially when coupled with such emotive history as the happenings of World War Two. If you’ve got the time and fancy a rewarding challenge of a read, Time’s Arrow is a perfect choice.