Time's Arrow turns the concept of time on its head. Review by S.K. Slevinski

Book Cover
While not speculative fiction in a traditional sense, Time's Arrow plays with our basic perceptions and assumptions of existence.

Martin Amis tells the story of a seemingly ordinary man having common experiences, leading a seemingly ordinary life. But this is no ordinary biographic. The main character in Amis's novel lives life in reverse, from death to birth. The book opens as he emerges from death back into consciousness. We follow Tod's life back into his old age, to middle age to youth to childhood through the eyes of a helpless first person narrator who functions as a second consciousness in his head. This narrator experiences and comes to understand life in a linear progression backwards, meaning that the narrator remembers what has already happened in the line of the narrative. He marvels at getting younger. He watches Tod take products back to the store where the salesperson takes them and gives Tod money. Romantic relationships begin with a fight and then get passionate. The narrator's almost child-like understanding of the order of life—and the story's linear progression—is completely backwards.

This novel is rich in narrative technique. While the backwards story is something of a gimmick, it is imaginatively executed and creatively balanced. Since the narrator does not have access to Tod's intelligent consciousness, the reader experiences only what he does. The suspense in this story comes in the provocative clues to Tod's past that the narrator experiences for the first time, letting us wonder what came "earlier." To read this story is a fun mind-bending exercise. During breaks from the reading, I found myself struggling to get my perceptions of time turned back around. Not a harrowing task, but I did find myself thinking about the daily events in my own life, wondering how they'd look differently in reverse. This book is intellectually challenging in a fun and satisfying way.

Just as a traditional speculative fiction story strives to make us see our own world differently by putting us into a speculative world, so Time's Arrow seeks to alter our perception of time by taking us through a speculative time frame, ultimately asking the question: "How would life look differently from the opposite direction?"

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S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.