Entanglement — book review

Entanglement, by Bryan Walpert

I read the first page and was smitten. Not sure what it was that hit me, I’m inclined to say the smell, which is nonsense, but it was that kind of attraction, something that comes at you side on and makes you turn your head.

This is a clever book. It’s about the study of time travel, and redemption, and doesn’t unfold for you easily. We come at the story through different perspectives, all of them quite wonderful.

There’s a confused traveller re-walking his past, trying to piece together where he is and what he’s come back to do. This is written in second person. Someone is telling him this: Slowly, slowly, you remember, as though against your will: the smoke of steak on the grill, the moan of a cello, the manner in which snow casts itself across the face of a street lamp. (Isn’t that wonderful? It’s the writing, of course, that has grabbed me in this book). Then there is a writer talking to us in first person — he’s researching at an academic Centre for Time and falls deliciously in love with a philosopher. This section is written backwards but it doesn’t matter, each segment is a perfect snippet of time in their relationship and who knows which way time travels anyway? Then there is the Lake Lyndon Writers’ Retreat at a later date where I’d really like to sign up for a course, if such a place exists. The students are given writing exercises, but not like any I’ve come across. Here are some examples:

Begin by putting the following words in a passage: bacon, horoscope, fox, conductor, lips, onion, brightly coloured bird. Or,
Write a scene in which a routine outing (shopping, a dentist’s visit, a cafe) becomes metaphor.
Or,
Begin a scene with this: it was a wish like a hunger.

Our man gives exquisite literary responses to these exercises, revealing triggers and emotions that relate to some other part of the story: his walk in the woods with his brother when they were kids and the shadow of a tragedy, his free-fall into love, marriage and a baby with Anise, their life in Sydney, travel in New Zealand and return to his home in America. More shadows. As I say, time is not linear and the story is constructed into a collage of scattered moment across a life.

Time is fickle and Walpert plays with this. There’s what appears to be a sound bit of physics behind the time-travel theme, but the research is done by a fiction writer so how real is it and what does he do with it? On first reading I’m convinced, especially when he explains that we’re all time travellers. Can’t argue with that. How else are we going to get to tomorrow?

I’ve written notes all though this book. I’d like to copy all the relevant sections across but there are so many I’d probably break copyright. My notes say things like: rhythm in time with reading; brilliantly unsettling; Schrödinger finally makes sense!; slow action like foreplay; and a simple YES!! The last is for this paragraph, which articulates exactly the way my memory works: The corridor is familiar…in a strange way, as though the memory is uncomfortable with the reality. It occurs to you that memories must be little rooms we refurnish now and then, repaint, re-carpet, then forget we have done any of it.

I’ve gone back in time to places where I once lived and experienced exactly that discomfort: a palimpsest of mental refurbishment over what I had forgotten.

So there you go. Entanglement is definitely a cool book for book club. Clever and complicated without being pretentious, a rich depth to the themes (some of which you won’t notice until the end when you find they’ve been there all along), lots to unpick and a joy to read.

Thank you Mary McCallum and Mākaro Press for your publishing gems (and for feeding me great books whenever I stop by).

Author: cristinasandersblog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

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