Tuesday, August 02, 2011

What I'm Reading Now: The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

Sitting by the pool at Villa Frisbee (I made that up) we're  still engaged in summer reading.  Summer reading will soon be obsolete and metamorphose into  "light reading."  Well, perhaps we're not always light in the summer.  We like to mix up classics, literary fiction, and pop.  One day we may read Clifford D. Simak's science fiction classic, They Walked like Men, the next Lisa Alther's Kinflicks, and the next Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse

As a last gasp at the end of the season, book reviewers and bloggers are recommending summer reading again. But, you know how it is, I have quite a stack on the coffee table already.

One of my favorite books of the summer is Felix J. Palma's The Map of Time, a historical fantasy that mixes elements of literary and pop.

The Map of Time is an astonishingly well-written novel, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor, and deals with time travel, romance, and H. G. Wells.   I'm very enthusiastic about Wells, loved David Lodge's stunning historical novel about Wells, A Man of Parts (and wonder why it didn't make the Booker longlist), and am amazed that two novels about Wells should be published at roughly the same time.  The Map of Time,
published in Spain in 2008, is newly released in the U.S.  A Man of Parts will be published this fall in the U.S. 

Set in the late 19th century, The Map of Time vividly delineates the possibilities of time travel, hucksters' exploitation, and couples separated by time and other factors.  H. G. Wells, one of the main characters, is so popular after writing the best-seller, The Time Machine, that he is pursued by quacks, fans, and occasionally respectable readers.  Out of the blue his home is intruded one night by Andrew Harrington, a suicidal Englishman whose prostitute girlfriend was killed by Jack the Ripper. His savvy, aggressive cousin, Charles, accompanies him.  Charles says he knows Wells has a time machine and wants him to send Andrew to the past to save his girlfriend.  

No wonder they believe, or want to believe, in time travel.  A frustrated novelist owns a time machine-travel agency that purports to carry customers to 2000, where they can view a battle between human beings and automatons. 

Imagine what happens when a brilliant, dissatisfied young woman falls in love with a man of the future, Captain Shackleton. 

Palma also fashions a mostly accurate, partly fictionalized, biography of Wells.  He charts Wells's rise from the lower middle class, from draper's assistant to science teacher to influential writer.  Wells, a womanizer, had two sexually unsatisfying marriages, but his second marriage to his former student, Jane, lasted.  Jane is a minor character in the novel.

The future and past are interwoven.  There are many allusions to 19th-century novels, among them H. Rider Haggard's popular novel, Allan Quatermain, and to historical characters like Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, a famous Victorian  deformed by disease (his skin was thick and his head elephantine) and rescued from a freak show.  

This novel is utterly compelling and irresistible.


SFP said...

I have both this and the David Lodge. I'm torn as to where I should start--with one of these, or with some Wells himself? All I've read is Island of Dr. Moreau and about him via my Rebecca West project.

Any suggestions on how I should proceed?

Frisbee said...

You could probably start with ANY of these. David Lodge's book is a beautifully-written fictional biography; Palma's also includes a short biog of Wells.

At The Guardian (somewhere) David Lodge wrote a list of his favorite WElls.

I started reading Wells last year, but Lodge and Palma sre both inspiring, though Palma concentrates only on The Time Machine.

SFP said...

I'll look for the list at the Guardian. I should probably just declare an H.G. Wells month in the fall and read as many of these as I can.

Frisbee said...

My favorites are Kipps and The History of Mr. Polly.

Yes, you can fit in your Wells with Rebecca West. Which reminds me: I should get back to her, too. I have something called Birds Fall Down? Have loved some of her other books.

SFP said...

The Birds Fall Down was my favorite book the year I read it.

The only West I didn't enjoy was Harriet Hume. Wells told her it was her best work, but it didn't appeal to me at all.

Frisbee said...

I'll get it off my porch now!