The Map of Time, translated from the original Spanish, is an interesting mixture of historical fiction, science fiction and romance. The book appealed to me as soon as I read the synopsis and saw that it was set in Victorian London, involved time travel and featured several real historical figures including Jack the Ripper, Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man) and the authors H.G. Wells, Henry James and Bram Stoker. It sounded fascinating and it was, though there were a few aspects of the book that didn’t work for me at all. I thought it was too long and ambitious and tried to do too much.
The starting point for the story is 1896, shortly after the publication of H.G. Wells’ novel, The Time Machine, which captured the imaginations of his readers and convinced them that time travel could become a reality. One of the people hoping to travel through time is Andrew Harrington whose lover, Marie Kelly, was killed by Jack the Ripper eight years ago. Andrew believes that if he could go back to the night of the murder it might be possible to save Marie’s life – so he decides to approach Wells and ask his advice.
Wells also becomes involved in the life of Claire Haggerty, a young woman who has trouble conforming to Victorian society and longs to escape to the year 2000 where the ‘brave Captain Derek Shackleton’ is thought to have saved the world from destruction by evil automatons. But is it really possible for Andrew and Claire to travel through time or is time travel something that only exists in fiction?
I’ve read a lot of novels that involve time travel as a part of the plot, and while all of them obviously require the reader to suspend disbelief, some of them manage to make it seem more plausible than others. There are a number of theories put forward in The Map of Time and it all started to become very confusing, but for anyone with an interest in the intricacies of time travel, parallel worlds, paradoxes (is it possible to meet a future version of yourself, for example?) and the effects our actions have on history, you should find it interesting.
The biggest problem I had with this book was that the pacing and structure of the story didn’t feel quite right to me. The book is divided into three very distinct sections: the first deals with the Andrew Harrington story, the second follows Claire Haggerty and the third concentrates on H.G. Wells himself. This had the effect of making the book feel almost like three separate books in one and it took me a while at the start of each section to get used to the new characters and completely different direction of the plot. Then there’s the omniscient narrator who intrudes into the story at times in a mock-Victorian style. This can work well in original Victorian classics, but here I thought it felt forced and unnatural and it ended up annoying me.
I realise I’m making it sound as if I didn’t enjoy this book at all, but that’s not true. There were parts that I found fascinating and times when I couldn’t put the book down. I thought the quality of the writing was good overall and I probably wouldn’t have guessed it was a translation. But for a book which sounded so exciting and original, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.