Martin Amis’s ‘Time’s Arrow’ is a gutsy, yet extremely intelligen,t novel that depicts the life of a nazi war criminal in reverse. Published nearly thirty years ago, in 1991, it transcends time and captivates the reader as naturally as death.
Over the course of this book: we live the life of a regular doctor living in America, who relays his life backwards to us, and eventually explains the dark truth of working for the Nazis in concentration camps. This stand alone novel is a very free flowing tale, and despite the fact that it tackles some morbid themes of death, murder and evil, Amis crafts it in a morelighthearted way, where the irony and kalma are on full display. A relatively short piece of fiction at 173 pages, it’s a great casual read that won’t commit you to anything incredibly long.
Personally, I would say that ‘Time’s Arrow’ is an enthralling read. It’s fast paced, constantly changing in time, and has slightly bleak themes that add flavour to this novel – all of which suit my palette. Masses of credit must go to Amis; this ambitious style of writing the story in reverse could have easily fallen flat on its face, however, he crafts it in such a way that perfectly plays out without a blemish. Nazi war criminals’s tales have been told before, but this ingenious idea permits the book to stand out. In addition the language vividly generates a true feeling of both guilt and shame at times, while some of the descriptions (in reverse) of the camps at the end of the novel are unbelievable. Something I particularly enjoyed about this one, was the fact that Amis managed to brilliantly convey both regular niceness with absolute evil. The juxtaposition between a doctor who has many friends, and appears fairly quotidien, to the differently names Nazi war criminal, touches on a really dismal side of the human psyche, where we can shut ourselves off from our murderous past and transform ourselves into someone normal. He’s capable of producing a protagonist who is fairly likeable and trusted by the reader, before unraveling a totally opposing side to him that sends chills down us, as we think of the many two-sided individuals that may roam our streets. On the other hand, it must be said that this novel can be, at times, confusing, and I had to re-read some pages a few times. Equally, I would have loved a more extensive account of his time spent at the concentration camps as a pure Nazi, s that’s where the flesh of the story lies, however it seemed rather brief in retrospect. All in all this was a fantastic novel that broke traditional literature’s standards, and told a great tale in the meantime. The only main fault is that perhaps the climax of the book was a little underwhelming.
Nonetheless, I would fully recommend this novel to anyone, because I think that anyone would appreciate its ingenuity, as well as its depiction of the duplicity of human beings. It’s short, snappy and entertaining, which is ultimately what we look for in everything we read: entertainment. It’s probably fair to say that you’ve unlikely to have ever read something like it before, so I would wholeheartedly recommend giving it a go.