‘The Lost Time Accidents’ is an epic family saga written by John Wray and published by Canongate Books. Moving from pre-1900 Vienna to modern-day New York, the novel explores the nature of time-travel, atoning for one’s ancestors sins, and pseudo-scientific cults.
The novel is written as a family history, as the latest generation, Waldemar Tolliver, is stuck in a seemingly timeless space. Throughout, he unravels the mysteries of the ‘Accidents’ that have been plaguing his family since he can remember, whilst simultaneously exploring his relationship with Mrs. Haven, a cult-leader’s wife.
The characters within ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ are just fabulous. Eccentricity, madness and pragmatism are constantly present within the various generations depicted within the novel. With each generation of the family comes increasing complications, emotions and histories – I think that ‘saga’ is, for once, a very accurate word to use. I also found it surprisingly easy to keep track of the characters and their movements. I normally have a bit of difficulty remembering who everyone is in big family epics such as these, but here I remembered them perfectly. This is despite the fact that events often took place simultaneously in the past and the present (if there are such things!). I was truly impressed by this, as it is obvious that every character (and indeed, every generation) was vital to the plot.
I don’t have a strong understanding of science, but I found the narrative was strong enough that the scientific passages still kept me interested. Also, the novel continually makes the point that science and fiction are not as separate as we might believe. I was made to feel quite comfortable in my lack of understanding of the physics, and I could rather immerse myself in the intricacies of plot and character. For someone more scientifically minded than me, I imagine that the use of certain sci-fi tropes, and bad sci-fi writing, could be a lot of fun.
My one issue with the novel is its use of huge historical tragedies, such as the Holocaust, as a part of such a family-based plot. It gave the novel huge scope, but it felt too neat and kind-of explained away the horrors of the Holocaust as scientifically understandable. I don’t think this was Wray’s intention, and indeed Waldemar struggles with his ancestor’s terrible actions, but I had difficulty getting behind this particular section of the novel, although it was obvious that great care had been taken to discuss it with sensitivity.
Saying that, on the whole I enjoyed the novel very much. I often struggle to find science fiction that is the right balance between narrative and science, and this was absolutely perfect.
‘The Lost Time Accidents’ will be published 2 June 2016.