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Time's Arrow, or The Nature of the Offence…

Time's Arrow, or The Nature of the Offence (1991)

by Martin Amis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (27)  French (2)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Mindbending... ( )
  mapninja | Jul 26, 2014 |
Second reading. Just "brill," to use the Amis argot. Highly recommended. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
I initially gave this book two stars, but after further thought I landed on three stars. The initial reaction was of extreme disappointment since the book started with so much potential. However, I think this story is a little better once you have time to let it all sink in--but not much better.

Portraying this story from end to beginning was a clever trick which has been done by other authors more successfully. The narrator in this story is simply not the best vehicle for story progression (or regression). The narrator learns more as the story moves along while the main character loses experiences and unwinds--layer after layer.

It's easy to know from the beginning what the secret is, and a lot of the excitement for me was to get past the big secret to see what led up to this awful point in time. Past the secret I expected the main character to be more human and somewhat more developed, which would contrast somewhat with the character's later revelations and trials.

Even after reflecting on everything for a while after finishing, I still do not have any emotion towards the main character. Yes, he did awful things and ended life still having this as a part of him. There just isn't enough contrasting elements to make a better decision. The end of the story shows an very one-dimensional and shallow youth caught-up in the fervor of the times (somewhat) and there is no major transformation. Maybe the point was to unravel the character to a point of non-definition to show how complex we become over time as we add events and interactions to our lives. This thought made me add one star later.

In regards to the narrator, I thought at first it was a non-judgmental observer which would simply tell the story as it was seen. However, very soon, the narrator knows English is being spoke backwards so it has to learn to flip the words around. I expected this much to happen so I didn't judge too harshly.

However, my opinion of the narrator changed quickly when it was disgusted by the physical appearance of Irene later in her life. This reaction could only come from something human as to judge whether another person is physically attractive or not. The narrator expresses difficulty learning German, but backwards English was learned within a few pages.

The dialog running backwards was necessary for conformity in the backwards-running time, but I found it annoying after a while as I had to read back through the dialog myself from end to beginning to compare the beginning to end.

It's also hard to touch on the Holocaust without the book suddenly becoming about the Holocaust itself. If I maintain this story in review as a pure character study of one man's journey through life and not the events in his life, this is not a good journey. If I view the settings and events in addition to the character study, it's still not a good book.

I do plan to re-read this book again at some future point. Hopefully I will pick-up more on a re-read and appreciate this book more. ( )
  deerhorne | Sep 28, 2013 |
Finished Time's Arrow by Martin Amis yesterday. Was COMPLETELY unimpressed. Ugh. In fact, I disliked it so much I didn't even bother to write an actual review. It was hard to follow, and generally uninteresting. I was not invested in the character and so I was not invested in the major pivotal plot point that I was waiting on and knew would occur early in his life and late in the book. The whole 'time told backward' narration device did NOT get any easier to keep up with, as I had hoped it would early on in the book. Dialogue was a pain especially. The only things that saved this book from a 'Hate' was that it was short, so the torture didn't last too long (although it still managed to drag) and I did enjoy the theme of hurting and healing.

Still, I would not recommend this book.

3/10 - Dislike ( )
1 vote CayenneEllis | Aug 25, 2013 |
An entity -- a soul, perhaps? -- is born into the body of naturalized US citizen Tod Friendly at the moment the latter dies of old age, and watches Tod's life lived in reverse, from this moment of death all the way back to the moment, decades earlier, when as a tiny bawling baby he is stuffed back into his screaming mother. Along the way, we discover that Tod, under a different name, is a monster, a WWII war criminal living in the US under an assumed name: he has been one of the vile "physicians" working in Auschwitz under Mengele and, before that, with the Holocaust's major architect Christian Wirth. To the entity, however, these men and "Tod" himself aren't monsters at all but great benefactors, for do they not take shattered, mutilated men, women and children and, marvelously, render them whole?

The telling of a tale in reverse chronology is an interesting literary conceit -- interesting in theory, anyway. In practice, it's a bit annoying and dull, which is why (so far as I know) only one other novel has been written this way: Counter-Clock World (1967) by Philip K. Dick; there may be good reason why this is one of the few Dick novels not to have been reissued over the past decade or so. (After the publication of Time's Arrow, Amis acknowledged borrowing the conceit from Dick; but he makes no mention of this in the book's Acknowledgments pages.) In the case of Time's Arrow, the thrill of seeing everyday actions being reinterpreted because done backwards wears off pretty fast, and once that happens there's not a whole lot left to be entranced by except watching how well or badly the author handles his self-imposed task. To Amis's credit, I noticed just one instance where his control of the chronology slipped (unless I'm mistaking the reference), where the narrating entity referred to something as being in the past when in fact it lay in the entity's future: p42, where the narrator's talking about a Japanese student in 1960s or 1970s America, and says, "He's lucky he wasn't here a few years ago, when we really hated the Japanese."

I read the book around this time of its first publication and remember thinking that, just as the telling of the tale backwards was a somewhat meaningless stunt, so in fact was my reading it: I got to the end of it (it's quite a short book) but felt less as if I'd read a novel or been told a story, more as if I'd got to the far end of the tightrope without falling off, and so what? I had the same feeling this time round except that the book annoyed me quite a lot more -- not just through the affectation of the literary trick but also because applying it to a piece of human history so horrific as the Auschwitz seems to me to cheapen that misery and suffering, as if to say that human torment is just something to be witty about.

Oh, yes, and it wasn't lost on me that "Tod" is the German for "death". Friendly Death. I'm not 100% sure what Amis meant to convey by that. ( )
1 vote JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Martin Amisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Klabanová, KateřinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Асланян, АннаTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Voor Sally
First words
What goes around comes around.
Still, I'm powerless, and can do nothing about anything. I can't make myself an exception.

And how can we two be right? It would make so many others wrong.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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original title: Time's Arrow
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679735720, Paperback)

Amis attempts here to write a path into and through the inverted morality of the Nazis: how can a writer tell about something that's fundamentally unspeakable? Amis' solution is a deft literary conceit of narrative inversion. He puts two separate consciousnesses into the person of one man, ex-Nazi doctor Tod T. Friendly. One identity wakes at the moment of Friendly's death and runs backwards in time, like a movie played in reverse, (e.g., factory smokestacks scrub the air clean,) unaware of the terrible past he approaches. The "normal" consciousness runs in time's regular direction, fleeing his ignominious history.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:45:48 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"A novel that seems to have been written with the term 'tour de force' in mind ... Amis's radical rethinking of time ... brings the abomination of the Holocaust home to the jaded late-20th-century reader in a way that few conventional novels could". Village Voice Literary Supplement. "Splendid ... bold ... gripping from start to finish".--Los Angeles Times Book Review.… (more)

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