Sunday, July 14, 2013

Time Travel Books

As I closed the cover after finishing a book yesterday afternoon, I realized I have read two time travel books in a row this week.  I can't believe I didn't recognize the coincidence sooner.

There are tons of books out there whose plots involve time travel.  Classics like The Time Machine, blockbusters like The Time Traveler's Wife.  It wouldn't be impossible to pick up two in a row, though I do find it odd.

I heard about To Say Nothing of the Dog long ago, and finally picked it up at the library.  It's from 1997, though it feels a decade or two older.  Connie Willis packs comedy, mystery, romance, history, and the science of time travel into an intriguing story.  The characters are highly like-able even though the story moves a tad too slow in some places.  Ned Henry, working with a team of time travel experts in 2057, is researching historical details in order to rebuild a cathedral that was destroyed in WWII.  In the meantime, a lovely researcher of 19th Century England causes a potential crisis by bringing a cat back through the time travel net with her.  Ned and the lady must go to Victorian England to try and repair the incongruities they think she has caused before history is rewritten with dire consequences.

The comedy comes in as Ned blunders around in the highly mannered Victorian era.  The romance is, of course, between the two time-traveling researchers, but also between couples that they are either trying to put together or keep apart in order to save history.  The history is sprinkled throughout...I learned quite a bit here.  And the mystery involves the "Bishop's bird stump" which Ned has been trying to locate for a long time but has seemingly vanished without a trace.

I liked this book, but my favorite was definitely the second time travel book.  I read it in a single afternoon.  It's a new release called The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.  This book was expertly woven together.  I am highly impressed by Andrew Sean Greer's ability to interrelate the three story lines.  It's the mid 1980's and Greta Wells has become chronically depressed following the death of her twin brother and the end of a 10 year relationship with her boyfriend.  As a last ditch effort she agrees to electroshock therapy.  With each treatment, she awakens in a different era.  She is herself in each era, and surrounded by the same or similar people she knows, but the situations are all unique to 1918, 1941, and 1985.  The novel explores the courses of our lives, the patterns, the tragedies and joys, the decisions, the relationships.  It really makes a person think.  The tension builds as the treatments near their end and Greta must decide in which time period she will remain.

It sounds like an unlikely story that would be impossible to make work...but it does work!  I was enthralled with it.  I had doubts, but I am so glad I picked up this book.

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