Sunday, March 22, 2009

Time's Arrow

Working through the 1,001 Books list, I've come up with some gimmicks to get through the list in a slightly more systematic way. Read five books by author's whose last name starts with 'A'; read all the "67" books (meaning, the books at position 67, 167, 267, etc); read one book from each decade, etc. Martin Amis's Time's Arrow showed up on a number of those short lists. And it's a short book, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I've been in sort of a reading slump lately, not really getting excited about the books I've been chosing. Time's Arrow is a noteable exception. The unnamed narrator is living inside Tod Friendly's head. The narrator cannot "hear" Tod's thoughts...but he sees what Tod sees, and can feel his feelings. Likewise, Tod doesn't know that there is someone inside his head. Strange thing is, time is moving backward. We begin when Tod is dying and end when he's born.

Obviously things don't make sense backwards. Tod begins relationships with arguments and bitterness and ends them with happiness. Tod's a doctor, so when people walk into the office (backwards, of course) fine, upbeat, but leave sad, cut, bleeding. The narrator recognizes this doesn't make sense: why do people come to Tod for him to screw them up?

But as we move backward, Tod changes his name a number of times. He is on the run. The narrator knows Tod has done something terrible. Eventually, we see what he has done. Tod's real name is Odilo Unverdorben, and he is a doctor at Auschwitz. But it's only here that things make sense. People are brought back to life...death is sucked out of them. Wounds are healed, rather than created. On the ramps, families are brought together. Odilo and his fellow soldiers help the Jews put their things into suitcases to go back on the railcars to return to home, to safety. Ghettos are liquidated in reverse. Everything is made better, brought from disorder to order.

Time's Arrow is very clever, and it was interesting to see everything moving in reverse...not only because I imagine it took some skill in making everything backwards (including conversations which only made sense when you started at the end of them and to the beginning), but because it turns the Holocaust on its head. It's not a horror, but a healing.

Time's Arrow also marks Book #170 off of the 1,001 list ('06 edition), which I don't think is too shabby.

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