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Category Archive for 'Imagined Time'

Wildly imaginative and filled with scenes so vivid that the reader cannot help but participate in the story as it unwinds, Life After Life engages the reader from the outset with the novel’s ironic and seemingly contradictory premises: first, that everything here is real and nothing is real; and second, that everything changes and nothing changes. As the book’s title confirms, this is a novel in which there is a life after life – a life in which a character’s fate as described in the novel in one place is revisited and rewritten in new scenes in other places, creating a new fate or fates. The characters change as they move forward obliquely, learning from each set of new, changed circumstances as reality merges with fantasy to create a new reality in a new dimension. Despite all the structural and thematic cleverness (and even game-playing), the novel is neither weird nor esoteric. Instead, it is loads of fun, a book that speeds along on the strength of the author’s deft handling of details and her creation of lively characters who interest us as their circumstances change – moving us, sometimes, from grief to happiness or from delight to puzzlement.

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In this alternative history set in 1952, debut author Guy Saville assumes that the negotiations of Lord Halifax, a British advocate of appeasement throughout the war, has led ultimately to détente between Great Britain and Germany. In 1943, the two countries, wanting to avoid war, had met at the Casablanca Conference and agreed to divide the African continent into two spheres of influence. The divisions would be primarily along the historical colonial lines: West Africa would remain largely under German rule, while much of East Africa would remain British. In a dramatic opening scene, a British assassin arrives in Kongo disguised as an SS surveyor, hoping to kill Walter Hochberg, the Governor General of Kongo. Cole stabs him to death, then escapes with some of his co-conspirators, only to discover later that Hochberg is somehow alive. Reading this novel is like reading a movie. The action is so graphic and so cinematic, that it is easy to imagine a hardcore action thriller, peopled with characters as impervious to pain as Superman. By the halfway point, Burton Cole and Patrick Whaler have been beaten, stabbed, slashed, smashed, and tortured to what would be the breaking point if these bigger-than-life men could be broken, but the chases and escapes continue. The characters on both sides are stereotypical, but Saville is an exciting new author with a suspenseful, dramatic style, but I’ll be hoping for more depth of character and more fully developed motivation to bring his future novels to life.

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For more than ten years, Harry Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia has been my personal Gold Standard for novels of alternative history. Having just read (and about to review) a new alternative history, I went back to this one to see how it stood the test of time. I liked it even better. Starting with the premise that England did NOT defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588, during the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, author Harry Turtledove puts Elizabeth in the Tower of London and makes King Philip II the official ruler of Britain, with his daughter Isabella Clara Eugenia representing him on the formerly-British throne. All the leading writers, philosophers, and artists so famous to students of Elizabethan England, when it WAS Elizabethan, are still hard at work in London, but now, their patron is Spanish, not British. Writing in the language and style of the period, author Harry Turtledove casually (and very skillfully) incorporates innumerable Shakespearean quotations into his text, often with humorous intent, and Shakespeare lovers will be kept busy playing the obvious game of identifying the plays in which these quotations appear. Puns, the off-color wordplay which so often provides comic relief in Shakespeare’s plays, dialogue in which characters talk at cross-purposes, and a character who constantly misuses “big words,” are a delight for language-lovers.

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Writing of Albanian life in Gjirokaster, the city of his birth, during World War II and its aftermath, Ismail Kadare creates a deceptive novel which looks, at first, as if it is going to be a simple morality tale. “Deceptive” is the operating word here, however. There is nothing simple about this novel at all, perhaps because Kadare, constantly under the gaze of Albania’s communist officials in his early years, always had to invent new ways to disguise what he really wanted to say without being censored. As a result, he began writing in a style akin to post-modernism, creating a literary soup which mixed fact and fiction, past and present, reality and dream, truth and myth, and life and death. By mixing up time periods, bringing ghosts to life, repeating symbols and images, and leaving open questions about the action of a novel, he was able to disguise the harsh truths of everyday life and the horrors of past history. That style continues in this novel from 2008 (newly translated by John Hodgson), despite the fact that Kadare was granted political asylum in France in 1990. Those who like their novels “neat” and unambiguous may find Kadare’s style especially difficult.

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In this imaginative and unconventional novel, Irish author Kevin Barry creates an almost feudal, imaginary city in the west of Ireland in the year 2053. The novel is in no way “futuristic,” as we have come to understand that term, however, seeming instead to be a throwback to simpler pagan times in which life is seen as the rule of the strong over the weak, with vengeance and its inevitable bloodshed a way of imposing control. Bohane, a tiny city on a peninsula, overlooks the water, its day-to-day life controlled by armed gangs and their bosses. Logan Hartnett, also called the Albino, the Long Fella, the ‘Bino, and H, is the “most ferocious power in the city,” ruling the Back Trace, “a most evil labyrinth.” His concern, however, is that the Cusacks, who live in the Northside Rises, have started to challenge his power. When a Feud is declared, to much fanfare and the showing of flags and colors, all hell breaks loose.

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