Top critical review
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Quiet, thought-provoking and mysterious
on 23 May 2002
From the jacket-blurb I had expected something quite mind-blowing from Time Will Darken It. I have never read any of Maxwell's work, so I did not have any prior knowledge of his style.
This novel, although not earth-shattering, is quietly ingtriguing. For me, it asks more questions than it answers, yet it is pleasurable to read. The author has a good command of the language, and the way in which he uses it bridges the sometimes yawning gap between US and UK English. He not only sets his plot in the period just before the First World War, he also seems to set his tone using the gentler and more precise language of that era. In many ways his plot construction and the domestic nature of the subject matter put me in mind of Jane Austen. He writes with a fine eye for detail, and seems to see things from the viewpoint of each individual character - although perhaps he chooses to leave us guessing about the true thoughts and motives of some of the central figures.
The way in which the narrative and the dialogue reveal the plot is - sometimes frustratingly - very lifelike, because there are times when the reader is treated to an almost complete grasp of the 'facts', and other times when - as in real life - we only have a dim understanding of feelings, motives and actions. An important letter is referred to, but never shown to the reader. A central character acts mysteriously but the reader is never given access to her innermost thoughts. Perhaps we are to understand that she herself does not know why she acts the way she does.
In summary, it's a book that is well worth reading - its testimony of the life led by middle-class Americans just after the turn of the century is fascinating, its language is sometimes almost poetically beautiful (I was reminded more than once of T S Eliot's 'Four Quartets') and its characterisation is intricate. I would now like a sequel please, Mr Maxwell, so that I can try to understand why some of the characters behaved as they did, and what were the consequences!