A time-traveling tale that blends science, history and fantasy into a character study that questions the very nature of individual thought and our perception of time.
Mason’s tale picks up with Cecile, the time-traveling heroine from his first novel (The Botherhopping, 2010), stranded in Paris in 1911 and working among a comically philosophical kitchen staff. She is soon reunited with old friends including Edward, Oscar Wilde’s former butler, and Fred, an aboriginal from a bygone era struggling with his sexuality and identity. Together, they reconnect with the time-hopping Society, and meet with historical figures such as Marie Curie and Sir Isaac Newton, eventually uncovering a plot to assassinate Charles Darwin. Along the way Cecile questions the nature of time and how it is experienced—is it truly linear, or do we just perceive it that way? The drawback to these digressions is that a clear plot doesn’t take shape until late in the novel, and the work’s true strength is its supporting cast—Edward’s self-doubt, Fred’s inner turmoil and the eccentricities of Darwin, Curie, Newton and the garrulous kitchen staff are endearing. Other “familiar” faces turn up as well, but those unacquainted with Mason’s first book will find themselves lost as to who these characters are, with one such instance—the introduction of Cecile’s “handler,” the enigmatic Henry—offering a fitting metaphor for the novel itself: “The trick when talking to Henry was to hang in there and grab at clues.” The reader learns little of the characters’ back stories, and less about the mechanics (and reasons) of their travels through time, which will be a sticking point for many fans of the genre. The language Mason employs throughout has a lyrical quality, reading less like prose and more like long-form poetry, setting a seemingly contradictory but nonetheless effective tone mixing seriousness and whimsy.
Beautiful language and well-drawn characters get bogged down by a convoluted narrative.