Willem van den Oever's Reviews > Time and Time Again

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton
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bookshelves: in-english, science-fiction-fantasy, thriller-mystery

Warning: This review of Ben Elton’s “Time and Time Again” contains some mild spoilers regarding plot development.

Ever since Michael J. Fox got out of a Delorean and endangered his own existence by having his own mum fall for him, it’s been clear that time travel isn’t just fun. It can be bloody dangerous and problematic too.
With “Time and Time Again”, Ben Elton – who I only knew for his comedy writing for various excellent BBC-series, but shows here he has a lot more to say – tackles the space-time troubles in his own way.
Here, our hero is called Hugh Stanton, a traumatized loner with a past. Or rather, a future. Having been sent back in time by a shady company, Stanton – an ex-soldier and celebrated adventure – is given a chance to prevent the most catastrophic event of the twentieth century from ever happening at all. Once, the assassination of an arch duke in Sarajevo plunged the world into a terrible war. Stanton’s mission is to prevent that this global madness will ever take place. But will the century really be saved by stopping a single bullet from being fired?

There’s so much jumping back and forth through time during the opening chapters of this book, that it made my head spin. In a good way, though, as it signals from the start how cleverly Elton has plotted out his novel. Time travel is not just a gimmicky way to have the story take place in the early twentieth century; there’s well-developed reasoning and consequence behind it all. While at the same time still retaining that adventurous spirit.

But get past the intriguing set-up, and “Time and Time Again” starts to show some cracks. Tempo-wise, the narrative shocks and bounces like a breaking steam-engine between long dialogue scenes and explosive action sequences. And all the while, Stanton – who started off being such an interesting, troubled lead – refuses to come out of his shell and become a more complex character.
And halfway through, there’s the obligatory female character-turned-love interest, which doesn’t add anything to the story, especially since the she remains so incredibly 2-dimensional.

Besides the flat side-characters, 1914 never really comes alive in this book either. Over the course of the story, Stanton might feel he’s developed into a twentieth-century man, but the reader surely won’t understand that. For that, Elton’s work is lacking too much in descriptions or impressions. The speed of his narrative turns “Time and Time Again” into a thrilling page-turner. Studios and producers need little imagination to understand how well this idea could be turned into a feature or TV-show. But the plot is too action-driven to spend proper attention to its décor. A shame, because Elton has opened up a wonderful opportunity with this concept.

What I personally found most disappointing in “Time and Time Again”, is the lack of Stanton’s personal motivation. Throughout, he continues to be the agent for the mysterious brotherhood. He never really leaves that assignment behind to make his journey more personal.
It’s this lack of character which perhaps shows best that, though “Time and Time Again” is handsomely written, being both clever and pleasantly action-driven, it lacks a soul to pack a much-needed emotional punch.
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Reading Progress

December 4, 2014 – Shelved
December 4, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
January 1, 2015 – Started Reading
January 8, 2015 – Shelved as: in-english
January 8, 2015 – Shelved as: science-fiction-fantasy
January 8, 2015 – Shelved as: thriller-mystery
January 8, 2015 – Finished Reading

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