Time’s Arrow (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Time’s Arrow, or, The Nature of the Offense begins in a Massachusetts hospital on the deathbed of a seventy- five-year-old doctor known as Tod T. Friendly. The rest of the book is an extended flashback to the life he is departing, but what distinguishes Amis’ eighth novel from the conventional format of biographical retrospection is the fact that the entire story is narrated in reverse, effect preceding cause, later coming before sooner. The entire short book is a novelistic form of palindrome. On an inspection tour to Treblinka, the narrator of the story notices that the hands of a clock in a railway station are painted to a permanent 13:27—“But time had no arrow, not here.” Otherwise, though the book opens with an assertion of circularity (“What goes around comes around”), Time’s Arrow is shot in a straight line, backward. When Tod eats dinner, dessert precedes soup, and food is lifted out of the mouth and onto the plate. A toilet becomes the seat of a peculiar ritual in which fecal matter rises form the bowl and into the bowels. Sanitation workers deliver garbage, and adults snatch toys away from children. “Good-bye” initiates a conversation; “hello” terminates it.
Amis toys with inverting individual words and sentences—“Aid ut oo y’rrah?” says a pharmacist to her customer, who deciphers more effortlessly than the reader this topsy-turvy universe’s reordering of “How are you today?” The narrator...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Dern, John A. Martians, Monsters, and Madonna: Fiction and Form in the World of Martin Amis. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.
Diedrick, James. Understanding Martin Amis. 2d ed. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Time Runs Backward to Point up a Moral.” The New York Times, October 22, 1991, p. C17.
Keulks, Gavin. Martin Amis: Postmodernism and Beyond. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Locke, Richard. “The Past Recaptured, Crab-Style.” The Wall Street Journal, December 23, 1991, p. A7.
Truehart, Charles. “Through a Mirror, Darkly: Martin Amis Wrote a Novel in Reverse and Brought the Holocaust Full Circle.” The Washington Post, November 26, 1991, p. B1.
Vice, Sue. Holocaust Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2000.
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