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Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: Map of Time

"Don't some lies make life more beautiful?" - Gilliam, Map of Time

The answer is yes.  Of course.  Some lies make life more beautiful, more livable even.
Belief in something, regardless of its correspondence to reality, may comfort temporarily, but as those who suffer know all too well, a comfort grounded in a lie is no true comfort at all.  There is something to be said for Truth in connection to Beauty.  Beauty is without substance when it abandons Truth.

Not to start on a negative note at all.  Because Felix Palma is a brilliant author whose use of words punctures holes in my ignorance. With a dizzying plot that left me breathless and somehow also creative, the book whirls and weaves two main plots into a shocking end.  The idea of the book is a philosophical feast and so elegantly phrased that I forgot I lived in the 21st Century. And I have to praise any author who dares to invent three different, yet believable, means of time travel. My favorite passages are the introspective moments in the thoughts of H. G. Wells revealing an author with an intricate mind.  Palma's mastery of plot development is only rivaled by his exquisite character development and the highlights are at critical, emotional commentaries on the works of other authors wrapped up in seamless narrative.  If there are any weaknesses in craftsmanship, it is his use of an elevated vocabulary which some readers tend to find irritating, but which I enjoyed as a nerdy philologic celebration.

However, I do have two issues with the book.

The first, and less important, is a gratuitous use of sexual immorality.  While the first appearance provides a significant contribution to the plot, the subsequent occurrences are (in my opinion) excessive, detracting from the purpose of the book.

The second is the twisted truth of the healing power of story.  Make no mistake.  Story heals.  Stories affect us deeply and can be a means of grace.  (See my post on the grace of fiction for more on that topic.)  But it is the seed of Truth within the stories that bring the healing. Without at least that seed of Truth, the Beauty is lost and therefore the potential for comfort. The disconcerting use of lies to "save a life" in Palma's work cannot be reconciled with a love of Beauty at its essence.  Both Andrew and Clair live "better" lives without ever knowing that their existences are based on falsehood propagated by Wells, the third protagonist. This pragmatism is applied only to the "good" characters, while the "bad" characters seem to operate on another set of rules.  While I'm slow to condemn actions that are, in the end, selflessly motivated, I have to say that the book doesn't maintain a commitment to Truth, and because of this, the validity of the art suffers.  

That said, the work is truly fascinating and worth a discerning read if you're between library books and need a page turner.  The old-world feel is balanced by the potential for so much more since Wells himself pens The Time Machine, the book that started it all.  

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