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The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray. Book Review

June 1, 2016

The Lost Time Accidents

Waldemar ‘Waldy’ Tolliver finds himself ‘excused from time’ in his aunts’ archive, with the world outside carrying on oblivious to his unique predicament. So Waldy must go right back to his great-grandfather, Ottokar Gottfriedens Toula, a physicist killed by a car while walking in the street, then pick through his family history to find answers. Because it is Ottakar who began the family’s unique ability to place themselves out of the normal flow of time. This takes Waldy on a voyage of discovery which moves from Vienna, and the very beginning of the twentieth century, through the German annexation of Austria and the Second World War, to the modern day. But being ‘out of time’ is not Waldy’s only problem, because a sinister cult, the Church of Synchronology, has appropriated Waldy’s father, Orson Card Tolliver, and wants possession of the Tolliver family secret.

This is a book that demands the reader’s constant attention as it flips around a host of delightfully eccentric characters and locations (both in time and place). You need apply yourself to keep a grip on all the narrative threads in order to keep track of the very complicated plot, which constantly threatens to overwhelm the characters. But as time is doing some very strange things, the reader is made to feel just as uncomfortable and confused as Waldy and, if you can hang in there, as determined to unravel the mystery of lost time that runs through the Tolliver family like a thread.

There is something of Stefan Zweig in the feel of the book, particularly in the Vienna segment and especially in the pre-war period before some of the Tollivers, or Toulas are they are known then, decamp to America. This segment works particularly well for atmosphere and is where the characters feel the most well developed.

Waldy’s father is an author who writes speculative pornography for pulp-fiction and is responsible for lines like “Draggo tried to laugh archly, but the laughter got stuck in his pylorus” as well as being published in magazines with the delicious titles of ‘Preposterous! Stories’, ‘Omniverse’ and ‘Tales of Stupefaction’. This demonstrates the wicked sense of humour and wit lacing John Wray’s writing, which is heightened by the narrative being delivered by Waldy in a series of letters to a Mrs Haven, whose role in Waldy’s life gradually becomes clearer as the convoluted narrative goes on. But it is one of Orson’s stories that has caught the eye of the head of the Church of Synchronology, and it is this that adds a further layer to Waldy’s dilemma.

This is the type of book readers will love or hate. In many ways it feels as odd and angular as its characters. But despite the dense text, it is a book that is a surprisingly swift read for most of the time. It is also one of those books that when you get to the end you have a sneaking suspicion that when some time has passed, and your understanding of the plot has slipped into a haze, you will pick it up again and get more out of it the second time around.

The Lost Time Accidents was courtesy of Canongate Books via NetGalley.

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