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Time Travail

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by Howard Waldman

I felt instinctively that I would enjoy this novel. Although I'm no science-fiction nut, and have been known to palm off such works on other people for review simply because I can't stand to open them, I was always a Doctor Who fan. The idea of time travel is fascinating to anyone interested in history, representing a kind of wish-fulfilment, so I could hardly wait to see what Howard Waldman would do with the concept.

He does well. I was impressed, to begin with, by the imaginativeness of making the narrator an old man. It can't be easy for someone as eloquent as Mr Waldman to imitate the forgetfulness and confusion of old age. Normally only an elderly author can do justice to the thought processes of an elderly character, but, being middle-aged myself, I appreciate how, as one gets older, the idea of time travel becomes a more tempting possibility, as though it carried with it some option of regained youth. This is so also for our hero, Professor Jerry Weizman. He doesn't think it up for himself, of course; the idea comes from an equally aged, equally desperate old friend, the collaborator/witness being an essential element in every time-travel story from The House on the Strand to The Time Machine.

As with all the Jacobyte Books products I've seen so far, I'm struck by the high standard of the writing. Howard Waldman is no mere storyteller; he has a strong and individual style of self-expression, at times unconsciously poetic, inventive without ever descending into pretentiousness.

We'd each blundered into the other's elaborately mined sanctuary. Reserved zones usually turn out to be fundamentally antagonistic. Music, indissociable from the machine that vehicled it, was revealed to be mine, her son hers.

The time machine built by Harvey Morgenstern is not like those we are used to coming across in popular science fiction. It is, at least at first, of no practical use and therefore quite easy to believe in. It also raises all kinds of questions that wouldn't otherwise arise. In scientific terms, this is closer to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe than to Isaac Asimov. Jerry and Harvey don't puzzle over temporal paradoxes. They are too busy trying to recall and record the past accurately, in order to check that the memories conjured up by the machine are not some kind of illusion. Jerry, for his part, is tempted not to believe in it at all, until he experiences its effects at first hand. And that's where the story starts to get a little frightening. What it does have in common with other time-travel stories, for me at least, is that it is profoundly disturbing and potentially depressing. Hence the title of the book.

The intellectual depth of the writing betrays the fact that the author isn't really a scientist. No explanation is offered as to how a box full of electrical components can be made to summon up images from the past (if that is what is happening). Mr Waldman gets round this little difficulty by making his narrator a professor of English Literature who merely observes and comments on his more scientifically-minded friend's behaviour. The humour, relating as it does to the efforts of two old men to recapture their youth, is bitter-sweet:

Apparently, as a grandfather figure, I had entered a new and terminal phase in my relationship with younger women, even with a woman like Beth Anderson, basically non-desirable except maybe a little, very briefly, when offering her throat in laughter or seen kneeling in a flower-bed in hot weather from the right angle.

The contrast between simple-minded next-door-neighbour Beth and mysterious former love object Rachel is subtly heightened as the tale progresses. Beth is, in a very real sense, the antidote to Jerry's nostalgia. Will the pull of reality be able to match the hankering after the past in its intensity?

It always comes as a relief to be able to heap praise on what is in essence a self-published work. In this respect, I've been lucky with most of the books I've reviewed on this site, but I have little choice but to single out Time Travail as one of the most accomplished. I would dearly love to be able to write this well.


ISBN 1 74100 102 1
Published by Jacobyte Books, 2001
Paperback or e-book
Retail price $9.00 (Australian) (e-book) or $21.00 (paperback)
NEW EDITION BeWrite, 2005

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher