PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Books

'The Map of Time' Is a Mélange of, Well, Pretty Much Everything

The Map of Time is an exercise in meta-fiction, a meditation on whether fiction is essentially diversion or revelation, distraction or illumination—or somehow all of these at once.


The Map of Time

Price: $26.00
Publisher: Atria
Length: 624 pages
ISBN-10: 1439167397
Author: Félix J. Palma
Publication date: 2011-06
Amazon

If some of the hallmarks of a good novel are originality, clear narrative coherence, and a careful orchestration of plot and character that propel the reader toward a climactic moment Felix J. Palma’s The Map of Time -- the first novel by the Spanish author -- is very bad indeed. First, there is very little, plot-wise at least, in The Map of Time that is original.

Rather, the novel is a mélange of, well, pretty much everything one can imagine and one of the joys or frustrations (more on that) of reading the novel is cataloguing its myriad references to other novels, films, poems, and epic literature from the ancient to the nearly immediately contemporary. Some works either referenced in passing or given more sustained attention are the second-century Greek satirical travelogue True Tales; the eighteenth-century German proto-romantic novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, and the early 1980’s classic science fiction films Blade Runner and The Terminator. This list is hardly exhaustive.

Moreover, the novel foregrounds its derivate nature: its main character is H.G. Wells and his seminal novel late nineteenth-century novel The Time Machine--or at least some of the ideas presented therein—provides the premise around which the novel’s pilfered storylines and ideas pursue their various eccentric orbits.

As for those storylines, the novel doesn’t so much have a plot with carefully subordinated subplots as host of subplots that are aligned to some overarching themes: time travel, of course, but also the nature of love, how individuals persist in the face of terrible regret, and the necessary delusions that sustain human lives. Digression and diversion are the very matter of the novel and the endless proliferation of episodes and incidents is both a narrative technique and a meditation on time, in its infinite complexity, as the central subject of the novel.

In fact, The Map of Time is really three inter-locking novellas (its tripartite structure is probably a distant echo of the 19th-century triple-decker format) over whose varied, strange, and half-historical / half-fictional interludes—the murders committed by “Jack the Ripper” and the figure’s true identity, an encounter with Joseph Merrick (better known as “the Elephant Man”) apocalyptic battles with automatons—hovers this question: is the human capacity for imagining alternative realities, and depicting them in various media, a legitimate form of time travel?

Given this underlying question The Map of Time is, of course, an exercise in meta-fiction, a meditation on whether fiction is essentially diversion or revelation, distraction or illumination—or somehow all of these at once. Various characters in the novel claim that attendant upon the possibility of time travel is the infinite production of universes; every action, however minute, has a ripple effect that changes the course of the world.

Doesn’t fiction constitute a vast canvass for sketching out the alternate possibilities born of human choices? Generally, Palma applies a light touch when it comes to the philosophical questions raised in The Map of Time, but it’s telling that the final third of the final revolves around three authors—the aforementioned Wells, Henry James, and Bram Stoker—and a plot involving the theft of manuscripts of some of their most significant works.

The Map of Time is, then, up to some serious business but is it an engaging read? The novel is not likely to elicit middling responses from readers. For this reviewer it's immensely engaging, its more serious matter operating behind a curtain of often very fine prose (a corpse is described as “meticulously destroyed”), snarky humor (“If Wells recognized any merit in James, it was his undeniable talent for using very long sentences in order to say nothing at all”), and sheer delight in invention.

At 609 pages, though, the novel isn’t in a hurry to get anywhere and this can certainly be maddening (a letter passed between two lovers in the second section of the novel goes on for nearly five pages). At moments when the reader wonders, “What is the point of all this?” one can almost hear Palma—or his often archly intrusive narrator—asking the reader, “What’s your hurry? Do you have somewhere to be?”

How should the reader take the presumption that that he or she has nothing better to do than to read The Map of Time? Some readers with whom this reviewer has discussed the novel have spoken of throwing their hands in the air—and then the book across the room. Others, this one included, have found themselves lulled into a state of sometimes bemused, sometimes rapt, sometimes befuddled wonderment.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

20 Songs from the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.