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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars awe inspiring
A book of stark, gaunt imagery and truly emotive subjects. Time's arrow delivers on many levels, as a warning of mans descent into pure evil it utilises the Nazi's reign to portray how seemingly 'normal' people can be turned to sadistic keepers of hell on Earth. The inverted time scale creates a sense of disarray which adds to the tumultuous approach to the inevitable...
Published on 30 July 2002 by Elmore

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Time's Arrow
Time's Arrow is a life backwards, but not in the Benjamin Button sense; rather, the book begins with our protagonist's death in the late 20th Century, and tracks backwards through time to end at his birth some 70 years previous. Counterpoint to this is our narrator, a kind of psychological hitch-hiker. Basically, the narrator is a character living inside the protagonist...
Published on 12 Jun. 2011 by TomCat


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars awe inspiring, 30 July 2002
By 
Elmore (Isle of Wight) - See all my reviews
A book of stark, gaunt imagery and truly emotive subjects. Time's arrow delivers on many levels, as a warning of mans descent into pure evil it utilises the Nazi's reign to portray how seemingly 'normal' people can be turned to sadistic keepers of hell on Earth. The inverted time scale creates a sense of disarray which adds to the tumultuous approach to the inevitable revelation of Tod Friendly's real history.
Contrary to what some have said, Amis deals with the Holocaust with a subtle approach, mirrored by Tod's reversed morality toward the horrific going-ons in Auschwitz.
A heart wrenchingly powerful read, which evokes a myriad of emotions.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life story told from death to birth by main character's soul, 4 Dec. 2000
By A Customer
Amis presents an entertaining and enlightening read with Time's Arrow. The story is told by the "soul" of the main character, Dr. Tod Friendly, who narrates Tod's life in reverse. The narrator's innocence makes the read interesting as he describes everyday events taking place backwards as though that was the way the incidents always occur. His naivete also hints at a terrible secret Tod seems to be running from. The reader discovers it during WWII when the main character works at Auschwitz concentration camp. Not only does Amis contrive poignant Holocaust images, but the reversal of time's arrow lets the reader see the event in a different light, one that parallels the Nazi's idea of "creating" a perfect race through genocide. Amis's characteristic mastery of language and satirical wit can be seen throughout the work while his wonderful prose never fails to entertain. Though a little complicated at times, the novel is definately a worthwhile read as it gets the reader's mind working and will not be easily forgotten.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Time's Arrow, 12 Jun. 2011
By 
TomCat (Cardiff, Wales.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Time's Arrow (Paperback)
Time's Arrow is a life backwards, but not in the Benjamin Button sense; rather, the book begins with our protagonist's death in the late 20th Century, and tracks backwards through time to end at his birth some 70 years previous. Counterpoint to this is our narrator, a kind of psychological hitch-hiker. Basically, the narrator is a character living inside the protagonist (but can neither exert control or influence) and who's forced to experience events backwards. Thus, to our narrator, the world is a baffling and irrational construct which begins with death ("I moved forward, out of the blackest sleep") and ends with birth - the terrifying entry into the mother's womb.

Got it? I'm finding the premise surprisingly difficult to explain. Imagine watching a film backwards while somebody describes the action as if it were playing forwards and you'll have some idea of this book's narrative throughline. Although the concept is initially baffling, the novel's opening 50 pages (or so) carry with them an persuasive sense of comedy that lightens the tone and makes the longer-than-average time it takes to acclimatise to the novel's style more endurable. For example, moments of otherwise mundane experience are lifted into the sphere of the comedic by our narrator's bizarre inverse chronological perspective: as our narrator sees is, a visit to the doctor consist of an immediate consultation followed by an unexplained hour-long wait in a holding area. Sex is a strange, tufted and clumsy process, the ultimate goal of which is, clearly, to be taken to dinner in a nice restaurant; where food is regurgitated onto cutlery before cooled in ovens and taken to stores where it is exchanged for money etc. etc. These amusing descriptions are augmented by reverse dialogue (much harder to follow than you'd think) which is equal parts funny and frustrating - a conflict that probably explains the novel's paucity of direct speech. More irritating is Amis' characteristic tonal smuggishness; whether he's bombarding the reader with very unusual words (more, it seems, to show-off his learning and belittle his audience than to elucidate or enlighten) or making naff nudge-nudge-wink-wink asides to the reader when, for example, the narrator explains that all relationships begin with horrific arguments and end with awkward "hellos" at parties; too much of the novel's opening is redolent of some smart-ass joke that Amis doesn't want the reader in-on.

But emerging from the somewhat clumsy and inchoate first 50 pages is a steadily spreading darkness, a kind of sinister shadow that creeps over and into the narrative, first with occasional negative abstract nouns (`regret', `deceit', `loss', `exile') and later with more horrific and grotesque manifestations (nightmares, arguments, violence). Yep, our protagonist harbours an appalling secret about his past (or his future? haha etc./*yawn*), which is only gradually revealed as both reader and narrator journey back through time.

To fast-forward: lots of incidental things happen to our protagonist (of ever changing name) as he becomes younger and younger until we reach the real crux of both the book and his mysterious identity. This aforementioned tonal gloom gets darker and darker until eventually we discover the truth that's casting it's shadow over the text: our protagonist was a Nazi doctor who administered thousands of phenol injections to German Jews in Auschwitz. Of course our narrator can't discern any sense of horror or crime from the actions of the holocaust; to him it's all backwards, and so it's a beautiful and selfless act of creation. As such, the book's linguistic register is altered to become fittingly biblical: "Our purpose? To dream a race. To make a people from the weather. From thunder and from lightning. With gas, with electricity, with fire."

[A note on where I stand re: the aestheticization of the holocaust]: I've always been uncomfortable with artistic representations of the holocaust (especially in literature), not because I adhere to any outré political or moral stringencies, but because I find the numbers and sheer horror involved to be utterly ungraspable. It's so radically alien to our everyday experience, and six million murders is such an unknowably huge number, that, rather than horror, I'm often beset with a sense of numbness when I read about it - and this is probably the complete opposite of the intended effect of any piece of holocaust art. I can't make sense of it (if sense there is to be made). At the same time, however, I don't hold to an Adornian idiolect of `No art out of Auschwitz' - (a concept I remember an eccentric university lecturer trying to push onto me over and over again). So for me the holocaust isn't beyond representation, it's just... difficult.

But Time's Arrow's backwards narrative, oddly enough, offers a relatively successful heuristic to the problems of describing the holocaust without simultaneously generating this sense of emotional disconnect. Everything we know about the holocaust becomes a reversal: murder to birth, pain to healing, starvation to growth, imprisonment to freedom; and there's something undeniably beautiful about destruction that's undone. For the narrator of Time's Arrow, the holocaust isn't a disgrace of history relegated to the past; instead, it never happened and never will. It's strikingly reminiscent of a scene from Slaughterhouse 5 in which Billy Pilgrim watches old war films backwards.

Of course, the corollary to this interpretation is a more cynical reading that finds the cancelling of the holocaust to be a grossly offensive and dismissive literary act. My counter-point to this argument would be that Amis never asks the reader to ignore or forget the holocaust, rather, he gives us a celebration of the life and vibrancy that was lost, rather than yet-another bleak description of the act of massacre. It's a bit like feeling grief through looking at photographs as opposed to grief through looking at gravestones. I found this book offers one of the few representations of the holocaust that really got to me with a kick-in-the-guts sense of emotion. The re-birth of a people is incredibly moving purely because it doesn't wallow in the blatant horror that's already seared into the minds of the reader from so many other sources.

In other aspects the books is... alright. Characterisation is somewhat lacking, as most of the people we meet are either foils for reverse chronology jokes "my wife gets younger every day" (literally) or cartoonish representations of Nazi evil. The narrator is the only persistent voice, and even his confusion and bewilderment regarding his temporal situation often feels abstract and disinterested, which creates an unnerving sense that he's not at all real, but merely a funnel through which Amis can pipe his backwards narrative.

On a more pernickety level, the medium of the novel (reading left to right, top to bottom etc) creates problems for the time-in-reverse gimmick - such as: why isn't the narrator speaking backwards? The aesthetic of the concept is imperfectly realised because it's so often frustrated by the limits of the form; i.e. the book has to make some kind of sense.

So Time's Arrow is a neat idea, but whereas the novel's best bits come from the nature of the backwards narrative as a storytelling gimmick (the aforementioned holocaust in reverse), this is also the source of the book's most major failings. Sadly you have to plough through a lot of dirt to get to this book's diamonds. As good as this books is, if you do happen to be looking for an experimental anti-war novel that highlights the senselessness of massacre, you're probably better sticking to Slaughterhouse 5.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual, but not fully developed, 11 May 2003
By 
Jonathan Waterlow (Oxford) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Amis’s thought-provoking, award-winning, look at the mind of a Nazi involved in the horrors of the holocaust is a very interesting read. The central conceit is that a second voice, the narrator, sits in the mind of the war criminal, watching his life play, backwards. This novel technique means that acts of appalling violence appear to the narrator as acts of great compassion – for example, torture victims are apparently magically healed by the anonymous man we follow through the book.
Amis cleverly juxtaposes this with the man’s life as a doctor, which the narrator perceives as the work of a torturer… this inversion of the truth is a very effective method of showing just how distorted the truth of Nazi Germany (or indeed any country exposed to propaganda) would have been. This is very thought-provoking… and you certainly have to do a lot of thinking when reading this book, what with all conversations taking place in reverse and so forth.
However, interesting and intellectual as this book certainly is, Amis does very little else after establishing the raison d’etre of the story. Once you’ve “discovered” (the jacket gives it away immediately) the author’s conceit, then you could, almost, write the rest of the book yourself and realise the points Amis makes without actually reading them. Interesting and, at times, entertaining though it is, more could have been done to make it a more fulfilling read. Single-concept efforts take a lot of talent to pull off successfully – talent Amis certainly has; he just didn’t use it to its fullest here.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Time's Arrow, 30 Dec. 2010
By 
Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Time's Arrow (Paperback)
This is the first Martin Amis novel I have read. I have read quite of few of his father's books and I have enjoyed them quite a lot.

Time's Arrow is not an easy read - the idea of writing a story in reverse requires a lot of writerly skill and to keep it up for an entire novel is pretty virtuosic. In the Afterword to the novel, Martin Amis refers to a famous paragraph in Vonnegut. My understanding is that it comes from Slaughterhouse 5, in which a bombing raid over Dresden is revealed in reverse, where the bombs come up to the aeroplane and the city's fires go out and its buildings are reconstructed.

The story concerns an ostensibly American doctor called Tod Friendly, whose life is revealed to a kind of alter-ego observing his life in reverse. We get hints that he has a chequered past and see a series of short term relationships and a chameleon-like ability to change his persona to fit in with his surroundings (how many 1980s Reaganites were hippies in the 1960s?). I do not know whether there was anything significant in the choice of the name, Tod, which means death in German.

The novel of course reveals that Tod was in fact a German medical executioner in Auschwitz concentration camp with the name Odilo Unverdorben. Again, the name appears be symbolic; Unverdorben is German for untainted. The true horror of the Holocaust experience is cast in a very strange light when it is seen, uncritically, in reverse. Gas Chambers are seen thus as healing places, anti-Jewish acts and laws become acts of generosity and inclusiveness when seen in reverse.

I think that Martin Amis has done an excellent job in this novel. It gave me much food for thought, although I have to confess that the reverse story-telling did confuse me at times and I did occasionally feel that he had not kept up the reverse narrative consistently (don't ask me where). I may have to read it a second time.

Recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The world has stopped making sense again...", 14 Aug. 2008
By 
This review is from: Time's Arrow (Paperback)
Tod T. Friendly (who is in fact Odilo Unverdorben, a Nazi Doctor and assistant to Josef Mengele in Auschwitz-Birkenau), at the moment of his death in late 20th century New York, re-lives his life (which to the people surrounding him is a complete secret), or more correctly, a shadow or rather perplex and surprised double of Tod Friendly (or John Young, and finally Odilo Unverdorben), who is the narrator of this account, does. Ingeniously, Martin Amis has mirrored this life as inversion, making it something like a upside down account of the 20th century.
Definetely not an easy read in the beginning (Martin Amis never is, thankfully- and reading inverse dialogues is wee bit like running backwards- not that I've tried running backwards though), "Time's Arrow" needs time getting accustomed to, increases momentum until finally Odilo Unverdorben re-enters his mothers womb. Inverse dialogue, inverse sexual acts, inverse life- even Auschwitz and Odilos role during the holocaust inversed: especially this part of this novel is the one making this book an unforgettable reading experience, this is the part, which stuns most, with leaves you breathlessly following Odilos shadows inverse view of the Schoah.
Martin Amis' prose is ironical, black, ice-cold, cruel and consciously pathetical at times. A shattering, stunning and utterly original visionary work of literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic reappraisal of the morality of war and genocide, 5 Oct. 1999
By A Customer
Amis balances nicely his natural cleverness and his artistry in this book. It might be confusing for the hard-of-thinking but is basically a very simple (and not entirely original, as Amis acknowledges himself) device of having the flow of time run backwards, that enables a lot of new thought about morality and its nature. Not a "fun" book, but it will reward the work of thinking through it, and shed genuinely new light on the nature of evil. For me, his best book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant, if disturbing journey of one mans' life, 21 Jun. 2000
By A Customer
Starting as all good thing should,at the end, we become the chip on this mans' shoulder. He is a vile human being who only becomes worse with youth. The cleverness of the author becomes apparent instantly with the main character rubbishing his own profession, doctoring in the very first page. Although the plot does get a bit confusing toward the end, it seems in keeping with the ergency of the period. Definetly work reading, probably more than once.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have ever read, 23 Aug. 2013
By 
Philip Mayo - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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This review is from: Time's Arrow (Paperback)
One of the best books I have ever read. Conceptually intriguing, executed perfectly, wonderful prose, heavy comic irony leading us, unsuspecting, into an unforgettably chilling final third, at which stage we realize that this is where we were always being brought by the author's incredible skills; and now that Time's Arrow begins to make sense, we have absolutely no escape..none. This is a work of true genius.

Incidentally, although it is not vital, the best way to read this book is without having any idea of what it is about, apart from the fact that everything (and I mean literally everything) happens with time reversed, to the extent that effects cause causes - for example, one is "cured" by the knife being pulled from one's heart; at a dinner table the food comes from one's stomach, in a mess, and forms in neat segregated portions on the plate. And so on. Please don't be put off by my clumsy attempt to describe the format. Read the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Innovative, gripping and often funny., 13 Nov. 2011
By 
This review is from: Time's Arrow (Paperback)
I read the book a while ago and recently got the audio book from the library. My 14 year old son and I loved listening to it. At times it is funny as backward bodily functions etc are described, but the nazi stuff is movingly sad.
I am still confused as to the nature of the being inhabiting the guy's body.
Was it his soul or conscience that was inserted the wrong way and that was an excuse for him behaving as he did, or was it as some have said his consciousness reliving his life backwards having previously lived it forwards? The narrating consciousness seems to remember some bits of his life, but you'd think in that case it would soon work out what had happened. This would make the book less interesting though.
A fascinating book, and a good book to introduce teenagers to more serious fiction.
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Time's Arrow
Time's Arrow by Martin Amis (Paperback - 13 Aug. 2003)
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