Martin Amis loves to show off. He's like a precocious magician who enjoys showing you a trick so complex, you still marvel at exactly how he pulled it off. Amis' novel Time's Arrow precisely fits this description, and narrator Graeme Malcom is the perfect choice to pull off performing Amis' tour de force.
Malcom's haughty English accent brings just the right combination of condescension and child-like wonder to Amis' playful prose. His performance, especially in the first half of the book, is reminiscent of Jeremy Irons' pitch-perfect reading of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. He sounds annoyed and repulsed by the crude characters surrounding him, and yet also completely captivated by everything he sees and hears. Malcom makes Amis' seemingly simple sentences soar, illustrating exactly why critics regard Amis as one of the best writers of his generation.
Time's Arrow seems like a simple trick. The book starts at the end of Dr. Tod T. Friendly's life and goes backwards. Harold Pinter's powerful play Betrayal uses a similar storytelling strategy to chronicle an adulterous affair. This time, Amis raises the stakes beyond mere sins of passion to describe in detail the casual cruelty of a Nazi prison camp doctor. There's another twist as well. Amis astutely decides not to have Tod T. Friendly as narrator. Instead, a voice in Friendly's head that's completely unaware that time is running backwards tells the story. This unnamed voice (perhaps Friendly's subconscious) believes the end is the beginning. As a result, everything that happens comes as a surprise to the narrator.
The more you listen to Time's Arrow, the more you'll be amazed by Amis' brilliance. And based on his always entertaining interviews, Amis seems to know just how clever he can be in one book after another. Then again, Houdini was one of the greatest self promoters ever, and everyone was still mesmerized by his astounding illusions. Ken Ross
Martin Amis turns to a tricky literary conceit to tell the story of an ex-Nazi, Dr. Tod T. Friendly. Friendly is possessed of two separate voices, one running backward from his death, the other running forward, fleeing his unsavory past.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Martin Amis' book, you'll also get an exclusive Jim Atlas interview that begins when the audiobook ends.
©1992 Martin Amis (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"For decades, writers have been striving to comprehend the Holocaust, and while its horror remains indelible, readers may wonder if there is another way of going over this relentlessly examined ground. In this swift, incisive little book, Amis succeeds in rendering the shock of the Holocaust wholly new by traveling backward in time....Amis's device, which at first seems merely a clever conceit, is handled so skillfully that living backwards becomes not only natural but a perfect metaphor for the Nazis' perverted logic. If he can't finally probe to the bottom of a mind that embraces atrocities, Amis has nevertheless written a thought-provoking, compelling book." (Library Journal)
"A novel that seems to have been written with the term 'tour de force' in mind . . . Amis's radical rethinking of time . . . brings the abomination of the Holocaust home to the jaded late-20th-century reader in a way that few conventional novels could." (Village Voice, Literary Supplement)
"Splendid . . . bold . . . gripping from start to finish." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
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"A minor experiment from a very good author."
I liked the prose and liked the execution, but there was still something a bit off. A tooth is missing in time's reverse cog making this Amis story rock rather than roll in reverse. I enjoyed the narrative told backward; extracting the real meaning while reading the meaning back to front is a funky brain trick. I loved having a Nazi doctor at the center of the story. The movement from physical and moral corruption to a form of innocence uncovered a bit more of the lizard brain for me.
The problem, however, is bending this story without a need for infinite folds in time. There is no gliding back with prose. There are only jumps back with glides forward. Amis is forced to skip back in time, translate, and then relate the narrative forward. Again and again and again. It was a bit like walking the dog with a yoyo. You are unspooling the story one direction, but the narrative SAH|HAS to keep spinning in a reverse direction. The skips are necessary, but still disruptive to the narrative. Anyway, I liked it. It was a good thought exercise, just not great literature. A minor experiment from a very good contemporary writer.
"Clever time travel"
Interesting concept - running time backward. From death to birth. I kept trying to find inconsistencies in the narrative, but could find few. An interesting read that reminds me of the movie, Memento, though the idea is different.
This is another fantastic and original book from Martin Amis. I loved it!
The concept is very original and the book is often very funny. And it works its way into your gut and gets you. You'll feel shame laughing at gruesome concentration camp scenes. But then, isn't life sickeningly funny run in reverse? Or is it.
And if we run the tape in reverse, do things merely go backwards or is looking back something else?
Pay attention to what is going on and you'll be rewarded on a thousand levels from this very funny and disturbing book.
Can't recommend enough but must plead with the listener to stay with it. This book won't be found in the shallow end of the literary pool.
From the beginning the narrator in this volume experiences time in reverse. Using this approach, Amis seeks to explain the Holocaust. Many have already spoken to the nature of this book. Published in 1992 there is not much I can add to what has already been said. Concerning the Audible edition, I would say that Amis' writing is just wonderful to read and even more exciting to hear. If you love wordcarft, this book is for you. That said, to fully appreciate the work of Amis you need to give Gaeme Malcom's reading full attention. I sat quietly and listened to segments as I had time. Otherwise, much of it will be lost.
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