Crutchley (Bad Days in Broadacre, 2016, etc.) offers a sprawling novel of time distortions and life temptations.
Alfred and Victor, twin soldiers in World War I, are cast adrift in the English Channel and briefly encounter a Napoleonic French general and his servant rowing a boat. Oliver Armstrong, an English businessman in the present day, is on the cross-channel ferry when he witnesses a shipwreck that no-one else on the ferry sees. Stanley Sedgewick, a retired English fireman, bumps into the aforementioned Frenchmen (quite literally) while swimming the channel. Walter Little, a high-level diplomat, finds himself typing the text of a historical document that he has no previous knowledge of, while traveling by train through the Channel Tunnel. It turns out that time is being warped, and Alice Blumen, an American reporter, attempts to reconcile these various incidents. During her investigations, she comes into contact with other affected people, including Calvin Cross, an English retiree with wanderlust; and Darlene, a French medium. Somehow, she knows that everything is related, and in some way, it will all culminate at England’s Battley Airport. Some aspects of Crutchley’s prose are distracting, such as the occasional overly enthusiastic use of adverbs and the lack of commas at the end of direct speech: “ ‘The meeting was nothing’ arrogantly replied [airport manager] Mildrew angrily.” Crutchley presents a plethora of characters with rambling histories that add to their uniqueness but often offer no clear bearing on the plot. Alone, none of these people demands the reader’s attention; en masse, they’re like a lashed-together raft that makes its way downstream, gathering detritus and momentum in roughly equal measure. The result may frustrate readers who are accustomed to more clear-cut and direct plots. However, this isn’t a novel that need be approached literally; rather, it can be taken as a blank-page analogy of life and fate. Readers with a bent for abstract expressionism may well see this random gathering of characters—and the aimless inevitability of the book’s pilgrimage—and find something of their own lives within.
A defiantly obscure tale, verging on the surreal, with an equally nebulous target audience.