Time's Arrow or the Nature of the Offence Audio Cassette – Audiobook, 20 Sep 1991
|New from||Used from|
Audio Cassette, Audiobook
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"Amis's backwards world is rigorously imagined. It is a world of pathos and cruel hilarity - but the crux, the test of his vision, is what he does with Auschwitz" (James Wood Guardian)
"The devastatingly sustained black irony stands comparison with Swift's A Modest Proposal. It is, I think, Amis's finest achievement to date" (Financial Times)
"Extraordinary - Ironic inversion is essentially a comic device, but its trickery here yields results that are rigorously grave" (Independent on Sunday)
"An icy, hard read - Amis is at his intriguing, powerful and heedful best" (Time Out)
"Amis's most daring and ambitious novel" (Daily Telegraph) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
'A daring and ambitious novel' (Daily Telegraph) that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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.
The novel begins a fraction of a second after – or before – the main protagonist’s death when he finds himself, awakened from death, surrounded by doctors discussing his case. He immediately remembers a joke (concerning a doctor) and recounts his own life as a medical practitioner. His name changes several times until he is a small boy entering his shrieking mother’s womb and his time there. Somehow, his descriptions of his work in Auschwitz (hence his various names) do not come over as tasteless.
Not always easy to read, this fantasy – in some places I had to read a section backwards to pick up the gist of the story – but the effort brought its own reward.
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.
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.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews