I have luckily been permitted an early peek inside the covers of The Map of Time by Felix Palma. Without doubt, The Map of Time is a very strange book. Peculiar, even. But there’s a very high chance that it will catch hold of your imagination and, through the sheer quality of the writing, you will not want it to let go.
The Map of a Time has a plot that defies description. However, to put it as simply and as non-spoilery as possible, it is set in London at the end of the 19th century, a time when Jack the Ripper terrorised the East End, when women longed for freedom and many people were newly aware of the tremendous possibilities that scientific and industrial inventions opened up. The novel follows three people: Andrew Harrington, a young gentleman who will do anything to save the life of his Marie Kelly, a victim of the Ripper, and in so doing save himself; Clare Haggerty finds nothing to fit in her own time, she dreams of the future and a mysterious Captain; H.G. Wells, the creator of The Time Machine, to whom everyone looks for answers.
The answer may be found in one man’s claim that he can take you, in his carriage, through the fourth dimension into the future. The year 2000 to be precise when man fought his most epic battle against the automatons.
But that is the bare bones. This novel is like watching a story through shards of a broken mirror. Absolutely nothing is what it seems and yet everything is fascinating. Even the narrator has a persona that is mysterious. The layering is intricate and superb in its knitting together. But what drives this novel on, except for the reader’s sheer curiosity in what on earth may unfold in it next, is the characterisation. Not only the three principal characters but also everyone else we meet along the way. Many of them are presented as giants, stamping their path through people’s lives and history, and some are familiar, including the Elephant Man. But others, although imagined, feel just as real and it is difficult to determine who and what is to be trusted.
You can pick your genre for this one: historical fiction, crime fiction, thriller, science fiction, time travel, steampunk, romance. Felix Palma picks his way through the genres with a skill that must be read to be believed.The author’s, or narrator’s, persona has a powerful presence in The Map of Time. It will play tricks on you. But the language of this book is beautifully crafted, and credit is certainly owed to the translator.
Above all, The Map of Time is a fun read. It’s extremely difficult to talk about without spoilers but once you start it’s hard to stop.
The Map of Time is published by HarperCollins on 9 June 2011. Many thanks to them for the advance copy.