The hours … days … weeks: ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ by John Wray (2016)

Lost Time Accidents

First things first, I love the title of this book.  I’m well aware that I regularly lose hours, even days, to reading; this novel could be the physical manifestation of an occasionally out-of-control pass-time.

The book certainly relishes the playfulness possible when exploring the most fluid of dimensions.  Though he references Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ Wray is also interested in more absurdist and fantastical time-travel narratives; the narrator is literally trapped outside of time and it will take all of his inherited insanity to free himself from his convoluted destiny.

Comfortably working with the most ancient of novelistic traditions, ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ is written as a series of letters to a beloved.  Subverting this familiar form however is the content of these letters, which may use archaically formal language but which narrate space-age conundrums.  Take the beginning:
Dear Mrs Haven, This morning, at 8:47 EST, I woke up to find myself excused from time.  I can picture you perfectly, reading this letter.  You’ll be telling yourself I’ve gone stupid with grief, or that I’ve lost my mind – but my thinking has never been clearer.  Believe me, Mrs. Haven, when I tell you that this is no joke.  Time moves freely around me, gurgling like a whirlpool, fluxing like a quantum field, spinning like a galaxy around its focal hub – at the hub, however, everything is quiet.’

You have to feel for poor Waldemar because he’s so wrong; the whole book is nothing but a joke.  Taking things seriously though, our narrator’s isolation from time provides the perfect vantage point for him to track his insane family’s attempts to harness the mysteries of time.  These began a century earlier in Moravia, ‘the gherkin capital of the Habsburg Empire,‘ and came to their peak in World War 2 when Waldemar’s Nazi namesake was able use his position to exploit other human beings as fodder for his temporal experiments.  Waldemar is current trapped out of time, but inside his aunts’ Harlem apartment in modern New York.  Everyone is utterly loopy and Waldemar’s desperate attempts to break away from his inherited monomania is much less convincing than his relations’ acceptance of it.  Chronicling a family’s demented path through history, ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ frequently reminded me of Jonathan Coe’s ‘What a Carve Up,’ though without the highly specific social satire.  Or maybe you’d have to be American to pick up on all the references; this feels like the perfect vehicle for big ideas as well as for more obscure literary jokes, if only I could recognise them.

Personally, my favourite parts of the novel were, of course, the playful references to literature over time, from Proust to Philip K Dick (both favourite authors on this blog).  Overall, ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ offers a lively opportunity to wallow in the joys of a sprawling literary tradition.  Yes, it’s very self-indulgent, but not necessarily in a bad way, especially for those who’d like nothing more than to disappear from time with some great stories for company.

I received my copy of ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

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