TL:DR version: If you like actual sci-fi, you’re a woman, or you dislike meta books, avoid this.
I was super excited to read this book. The back promised me time travel and Dracula and genre-bending madness!
Well, two out of three were wrong. And two outta three…ain’t…bad?
I blame my dislike of this book on three reasons:
It was marketed to make it more exciting. So is everything else. I understand this. What I don’t understand, however, is how a nice novel like The Map of Time ends up with a completely misleading and trashy false blurb in a place like the back of the book. I’ve come to expect this from movie trailers, and I always take the back of a book with a grain of salt, but if they had just marketed it as it was: a Victorian thriller true to the time in both style and plot, I would have enjoyed it so much more. But instead they made it seem steeped in science fiction and fantasy and that doesn’t really come into play for more than two thirds of the novel.
But, because they wanted to add some spice, they lost me. I kept on expecting things to jump out at me and wave their wordy fingers and say, “Ooh, look, I’m Dracula popping into a book otherwise about H. G. Wells and look how much I bend genres!” like the wonderful Jasper Fforde Thursday Next novels. Instead, I got a bogged down, “Oh, hey. Yeah, I’m Bram Stoker, the dude who wrote Dracula . I barely fit into this novel at all. All I can bend are my fingers. To type things. Because I’m Mr. Stoker. NOT MY FICTIONAL CHARACTER WHICH DOESN’T EVEN MAKE AN APPEARANCE AND WAS ONLY TALKED ABOUT ON THE BACK OF THE NOVEL TO SPECIFICALLY INTEREST MELISSA.”
Because I like vampires, okay?
It was like expecting to drink some water and getting a mouthful of vodka instead. They’re as different as an elephant and an elephant seal, m’kay?
And I’m totally fine with the Victorianess of it and the lengthy wordiness of it and even the unreliable narrator-y-ness of it too. I love those things. I write those things. But don’t tell me it’s going to be something completely different — DOCTOR WHO MIXED WITH DICKENS is what the back basically said to me — because then I won’t like those things. Those things will just piss me off. Give me the truth. The truth sets everyone free. Just not Tom Cruise
in real life A Few Good Men.
2.) Feminist hackles.
Look. I understand that most novels are written by dudes and for dudes — wait, what? That’s comic books? The majority of readers are women? Well, THEN YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES.
The only main lady character (not that I need all of my characters to be ladies) tells me how non-matronly she is. How she doesn’t want to get married and have children solely because that is what she is supposed to do and that she feels as confined and restricted as the very corset wrapped around her body (ooh, symbolism!). Cool! I like this! Defying stereotypes and being more than just what others expect of her. I respect this!
But oh, a man from the future! Wow! She hasn’t even seen his face and she falls in love with him. Because he must — he simply must! — be different than the cads around her. And *spoiler alert* HE MANIPULATES HER INTO SLEEPING WITH HIM. And, another alert, he continues to manipulate her because otherwise, she will commit suicide because of his brutish actions.
I just…I can’t…
NO ONE ACTS LIKE THIS. Yes, it’s a Victorian setting, and I have a different viewpoint about women and their roles in society than say, H. G. Wells and Stoker do, but that doesn’t mean that Palma has to continue this legacy either. I’ve read plenty of Victorian novels involving women and NONE OF THEM ACT LIKE THIS EITHER. Even Lucy in Dracula is stronger than her husband in many ways and when she stops getting his letters (because he’s skrawnking some vampire chicks and stuff) she doesn’t just off herself because she can’t survive without a man. This is unrealistic and insulting.
I don’t demand that things appeal to my sense of how women should act. There is no right way to portray women because all women are different. JUST DO NOT ACTIVELY OFFEND ME AND WE’LL BE OKAY.
The idea that a woman would commit suicide simply because someone she’s barely met doesn’t reply to her letters is outlandish at best and rather offensive to those with any sense of self-respect. It’s not just plot holes and bad (or lack of) editing at this point, it’s just plain lazy writing. A lack of talent in the field of character development is no excuse for a poorly conceived and executed second half and cannot be made up for by Palma’s otherwise intricate and well-designed plots and graceful way with words. Write your women the same way you do your men — with a well-rounded psyches, with realistic expectations and desires, with a sense of independence that doesn’t rely upon a man — and leave your stereotypes at the door.
I enjoy a bit of the ol’ genre-savviness meself. I really do. But there is a point when it becomes too much.
The next paragraph will spoil the ending, so don’t read it if you want to keep the surprise, but do know that the ending is so self-referential, I almost stopped to check if it was written by the same guys who write Supernatural.
H.G. Wells gets a letter from his future self saying that if he gives his unpublished manuscript of The Invisible Man to a time-traveler who wants purportedly to help him, the (actually) evil time-traveler will attempt to kill him and the stress of almost being killed will reveal his previously unknown powers of mind time travel. (The only way people can ACTUALLY time travel in the novel is with their minds, a la The Time Traveler’s Wife. In fact, that’s not the only thing that is lifted directly from the Niffenegger [spell that five times fast] novel, but that’s another quip for later.) The letter goes on to explain that he has a choice: go through events and become the very man writing him that letter (meaning he will disappear from history only after his second novel) or change history and make things different (or what we known to be true in this timeline, i.e. he goes on to write many more novels like The War of the Worlds and so forth.)
Blah, blah, blah, he chooses to make his own path, as scary and unknown it is and bam! H.G. Wells is saved and history as we known it is kept sacrosanct and the world is all right. But, if he could write a novel about his experiences, it would be a lot like a novel that I just read and it would start the same way that the very one I was reading would and oh, my, fracking God, are you serious? You are referencing the very novel you are writing!
That’s not clever, that’s egoism. And unacceptable. Any suspension of disbelief on my part was then puked upon and put back onto a shelf never to be read again and kind of to be looked at in pity as a couple of dollars wasted. Which no book should ever make me feel like I wasted money on it, and yet, the previous good yet feminist-hackle-raising 600 pages almost doesn’t make up for the last mind bogglingly vainglorious two.
Three stars out of five. Infuriating, but I couldn’t help but sense that with a better editor (and a real-life knowledge about women and how they act) it could have been spectacular.