(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

To explore the moral horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in a way that would ultimately implicate the reader in a most unnerving immediacy, Amis devised an intricate narrative device in which the narrative is told in reverse, based on the scientific theory, one widely exercised in speculative fiction, that time actually moves backward. The narrative is concise, barely 150 pages, with Amis recognizing the difficulties and demands of such a narrative strategy. To tell the narrative, Amis creates a kind of talking soul that comes into existence at the moment when its host body, a retired German-American doctor in upstate New York named Tod T. Friendly, dies after a car accident. Within this narrative device, this soul acts as a witness-narrator (the voice can only watch and cannot interfere) as Dr. Friendly’s body begins to reengage his life, although this time he lives it backward, moving with furious momentum back to his life as an intern in New York City. At first reading, of course, the reader puzzles (much as the narrator-witness) over the implications of Dr. Friendly’s life: his struggle with alcohol, his dispassionate preoccupation with the human body, his inability to give himself emotionally to his numerous liaisons, and, most disturbing, his grim dreams about babies and children.

The narrator tunes into an inexplicable sense of some ghastly secret that pulls at the events, a secret offense; the book’s subtitle, The Nature of the Offense,...

(The entire section is 565 words.)