Monday 10 October 2011

Time slip novels

Is time slip a relatively new device? Every modern novel I read now seems to go back and forth between the past and the present. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. I'm probably the only person on the planet who couldn't cope with The Time Traveller's Wife (the ultimate time slip novel), and I had my doubts about One Day, probably for similar reasons.

But I cannot think of a single "classic" novel which works in this way. Dickens, Austen, Gaskell, Hardy, Trollope - they all move seamlessly in one direction, with only passing references to the past. When did this time slip thing start (I've done it, too, in my novels, almost without realising it)? And why?


  1. That is a very interesting question and something I will certainly keep in mind in my reading from now on. Like you used this in your own book almost without realizing it, I guess we have all been reading plenty of time slips without thinking much about it, and without trying to work out why the author did that.

  2. A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur - Mark Twain?

    It's been a standard sf/fantasy trope for decades, but I agree it's only recent become a mainstream trick.

    I loved The Time Traveler's Wife, which I thought was a brilliant conceit brilliantly executed, but you can have too much of it.

  3. Are you sure, Colette??

    Librarian, I think maybe it's when you really notice that the time slip element begins to intrude.

    Long time since I read Mark Twain, Tim. As for TTTW, as I said, I think I'm on my own!

  4. I can only enjoy time-slip when it's beautifully crafted and I can follow it without wondering where/when/why/what's going on?

    You are not alone with TTTW. I was very confused and unsure about that one.

  5. I loved TTTW and have read it twice. One of the few books that damn near moved me to tears at the end (another was Ishiguro's "Never Let me Go" - the prose in the final paragraph is heart-wrenching).

    Audrey Niffeneger's second novel "Her Fearful Symmetry" was a big disappointment, and my copy will be heading off to Ebay.

    But the best timeslip novel I ever read was Gregory Benford's "Timescape" - the plot concerning itself with a scenario in the future where the world was being destroyed by pollution. Attempts were made to communicate with the past to try to stop the development of the chemical substances that wrought the destruction. An amazing ending. It's still in print. The author is a physicist, so he knows what he is writing about and writes well.

  6. I read the TTTW. Up to a point, I loved it then it lost me and I fought to stay with it. Then it made me sad and then after that I thought oh well that's that, what shall I read now. No it isn't a book I would go back to read again.

    Oh and BTW the book I just finished writing is a timeslip novel. I wrote it because I thought I was doing something different... trust me to be a bit later than everyone else.

  7. Joanna, I'm glad you agree about TTTW.Yes - time slip is fine if all is made clear. But nearly all the novels I've been getting via the Amazon Vine programme seem to be time slip/confusing, and I long for a straightforward story which moves directly from the beginning to the end!

    Author Doc - you obviously belong to the majority camp. I was going to try her second, but now I shan't bother!

    Hi, Jaramra. Whatever people feel, I'm still not sure why TTTW is considered so very special. Maybe I'm just jealous! And if your novel is time slip, it seems to be very much the thing at the moment, so it will probably be fine.