Jessica's Reviews > Time's Arrow

Time's Arrow by Martin Amis
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's review
Dec 21, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: crime-and-punishment, here-is-new-york, kind-of-depressing
Recommended for: backwards-minded types
Read in December, 2011

She can't help it if her best isn't very good, but she's done it. She's ploddingly typed out her half-assedly apropos review, then clicked on the stars -- three of them, yellow and cartoony, her blithe summation of an author's painstakingly wrought offering to twentieth-century literature. He'll probably spend years writing then researching this thing, which she's already rated like it's an eBay-seller transaction, and reviewed with all the thoughtfulness and care of an Adderall-snorting thirteen-year-old's Facebook status update...

In any case, now she'll see what this book's all about. She picks it up, name-scans the Afterword (Aw, Hitch!), and begins. Seems to be a fairly standard-sort bildungsroman kind of thing, young boy into man... oh, no, but wait. It's not really -- some heavy stuff here -- and -- uh oh, what's this? -- an arguably silly postmodern TRICK! She likes it well enough, reads the whole thing through in about a day. This author does seem to have got a certain way with words, some nice little descriptive details: "Mickey Mouse sniggers and Greta Garbo averts her pained gaze from [a young couple's] mortified writhings on the shallow fur of cinema seats" (p. 154). Shallow fur! She likes that... Also some nice, darkly-brooding well-phrased stuff with its own intense, seductive style: "There's probably a straightforward explanation for the impossible weariness I feel. A perfectly straightforward explanation. It is a mortal weariness. Maybe I'm tired of being human, if human is what I am. I'm tired of being human" (p. 93). Ooh, that's nice!

More good stuff -- time passes from one era to the next with description that transcends mere gimmick... because gimmick is what this is, she sees, as she nears the first page. In this book, she discovers, time runs in reverse, and the life of the main character is being chronicled from the end backwards by a rather hapless, baffled narrator whom we're encouraged to picture as "a sentimentalized fetus, with faithful smile" (p. 42).

Does it work? It works. She more or less does get pretty into the whole thing. But then, she's prone to jokes that go on way too long, and tends to find them more amusing in the endless retelling: an old man wearing bellbottoms in the early eighties is fashion's cutting edge, garbage men scatter trash throughout cities, while highway workers rip up the road. Of course, she knows, this is Literature, so sometimes the joke is very Serious: its protagonist is a doctor, who appalls his Jiminy Cricket-type observing ego by brutalizing patients, as doctors in this backwards world (almost) always necessarily do. The narrator speculates on the demolition of cities, centuries from now, into "the pleasant land -- green, promised," and pauses to assert that he's glad he wasn't around for the city's creation. It's poignant, while also cool, as she finds this novel has generally been throughout.

By the time she's done, she's resolved to seek out more of the writer's work. Although this isn't the greatest book she's ever read, she enjoyed it, and she bets he's done better elsewhere with this evident cleverness and his linguistic gifts. She adds Time's Arrow to her to-read list, and reviews another book by Amis -- book reviews, The War Against Cliche -- which, when she reads it, she feels is vastly superior. Then she goes on to sample more of his fiction, and finds it sort of beguilingly uneven. As with Time's Arrow, each book has, to varying degrees, both its awe-inspiring strengths and unforgivable flaws. None of what she reads is, in her opinion, as good as his reviews... until she finally comes across London Fields, and is lovestruck: THIS is the Martin Amis novel she's been waiting for all her life!

And why is the thing you're looking for always in the last place you look? It seems like she would read more Amis after loving London Fields so much, but she doesn't, and acts surprised later when a close female friend recommends his work. In fact, she seems to forget any real sense of who Amis is, and is overheard sharing a vague negative impression -- acquired who knows where -- that "only pretentious, asshole guys who are way too into coke and themselves read him."

Which is too bad, because Martin Amis is a really good writer, and he's written a lot of books, and she might really enjoy some if she gave them a chance. But it's too late. Wait, is it too late? It might be too late, or, alternatively, it might not be... To be honest, she's not sure how this whole thing works, and trying to figure out the logistics sort of makes her head hurt.
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02/04/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Buck (new)

Buck Gotta go. Talk to you later.

Is it, like, National Back-Asswards Day over there or what? Check out GR’s quote of the day:

It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. (Kierkegaard)

Hey, Jessica. I just read your review. I have to say, I’m not a big fan of facile, postmodern trickery

Manny I'm afraid I have to agree with Buck. Too gimmicky, not enough substance. Though points for not mentioning the un-Holocaust or Counter-Clock World.

message 3: by Emily (new)

Emily Kramer just read london fields over and over - rather than any other martin amis books. there's enough in that book to last a lifetime. although if you liked london fields try also: dahlgren.

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