H.G. Wells meets Jack the Ripper, the Elephant Man and a historical dimension’s worth of other figures in this imaginative novel by Spanish writer Palma.
The author is an acclaimed writer in his native country, winning the esteemed Ateneo de Sevilla XL Prize for this novel, his first to be published in the United States. At the heart of the story is a question that has fascinated geeks since the beginning of time, or least since Einstein’s day—namely, is it possible to travel through time and, moreover, to violate the prime directive and tinker with events of the past and perhaps even future, reshaping lives and altering the course of history? In this instance, that question haunts a melancholic Briton whose lover, a naughty person of the night, was summarily dispatched by a serial killer working under the cover of the London fog. So obsessed is he by the desire to turn back the clock that he opens himself up to the possibilities of bamboozling. Enter H.G. Wells, who is introduced into young Andrew Harrington’s sorrowful tale in leisurely time as both a “celebrated author” and “painfully thin and having a deathly pallor,” the result, perhaps, of too much hard thinking—particularly about such things as machines that can take a person across the firmament of time. Is Wells a crackpot? Is time travel an elaborate con? Such questions emerge continually throughout Palma’s winding narrative. Now, it has to be said that Karl Alexander beat Palma to the punch with his novel Time After Time (1979), which pits—well, H.G. Wells against Jack the Ripper. Palma’s book has the wider reach, however, as well as a harder scientific edge. Palma is also a master of ingenious plotting, and his tale takes in far more than a simple game of cat and mouse: Even the most careful reader won’t foresee some of the twists here, and there are plenty of them.
Palma wanders in and out of genres—is his book science fiction? literary fiction? fantasy? Whatever the answer, it’s great fun to read, particularly for those with a bent for counterfactual history.