Molly Keane Ann Hulbert - Essay

Ann Hulbert

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Keane directs [the] symmetrical and suspenseful plot [of Time After Time] with a dexterous hand. Staging a drama of revelation, she plants hints … and plays agilely with her characters' distorted perspectives. Keane proved herself a master of unreliable narration in Good Behaviour, letting deluded Aroon tell the story, at the same time betraying to us the true, even sadder, tale of her family's fate. This time Keane multiplies the myopia and shifts, artfully and comically, from one solipsistic Swift to the next…. Keane's feat is not only to make us correct for their skewed vision but also, improbably enough, to prompt us to care about their cantankerous views and fates. The brittle caricatures are still capable of surprising themselves, Keane convinces us—and curiosity thus roused can lead unexpectedly near to sympathy.

Keane depends on curiosity to spin out her old-fashioned fiction. So does cousin Leda to ensnare the Swifts. In fact, Keane seems to mirror in Leda the manipulative imagination that is at work in her own art. When Leda arrives halfway through the novel, hers becomes the crucial perspective, as she sets the Swifts against one another and treacherously teases out their secrets. (p. 40)

Despite her insinuating gifts, Leda couldn't write a book about the Swifts if she wanted to—and in fact even fails to enthrall them in the end. A genius at manipulation, she, unlike Keane, has no inkling of the moral imagination that must complement and complicate it: she knows all about the possibilities of power, but not about the limitations of knowledge. Keane, however, is an expert on delusion, which tends to triumph in her fiction—usually for the best in the darkly comic world she creates. At the close of Time After Time, it's all-knowing Leda who is trapped, and the blinkered Swifts who are enlightened—but only a little, just enough to exert their waning powers in purposeful, instead of perverse, directions. (p. 41)

Ann Hulbert, "Visitations," in The New Republic, Vol. 190, No. 4, January 30, 1984, pp. 40-1.∗