Time After Time by Molly Keane

Time After Time by Molly Keane 1983 French title: La revenante.

Keane_TimeTime After Time is our Book Club choice for June. I’m sorry to report I couldn’t finish it, I stopped at 36%, the kindle says. I never managed to enter into the book’s universe.

It is set in Ireland, in the decrepit aristocratic mansion Durraghglass where the four Swift siblings live together. They are over sixty year old and kindly hate one another. Jasper is the only man of the group. An accident in his childhood left him one-eyed and he loves cooking and gardening. April, the only one who was married once, is almost deaf; her main hobby is buying pretty clothes and taking care of her beauty. May has a hand with only two digits and is the President of the Flower Arranger’s Guild. June –Baby— is slow and loves farming. The four of them worship their deceased mother. For example, Jasper still wears the hat she picked for him years ago and the sisters quote her words like the Gospels. Saint Mummy, pray for us.

They all have clear but different memories of the cousin Leda who was a half-Jewish Austrian. She had stayed with them during a summer and they all assume she died during WWII. A Jew married to a Jew, what else could have happened? But Leda arrives unexpectedly on their doorstep…

This is where I stopped reading. There was a feeling of déjà vu that bothered me. Molly Keane has a lovely and humorous style but the outline of the characters and the plot sounded more like a literature exercise than real creation. Four siblings, each with a disability, raised in grandeur and now impoverished. The three sisters have month names, the mother’s ghost is hovering over their lives. They each have a pet, the sisters have dogs and Jasper has a cat. Each sibling has their little quirk. And you can feel that cousin Leda’s return is going to set things in motion, dig out dark secrets and shatter the fragile modus vivendi of the Swift siblings. So she’s the deus ex-machina, as my literature textbook calls it.

This is why I couldn’t finish it. I thought the characters, setting and plot were artificial. It reminds me of theatre play rules, unity of time, place and action. I felt like Molly Keane was trying to comply with literature rules for a school assignment more than expressing herself. Four disabilities were too much for my liking and the names put me off. Seriously: April, May and June? The accumulation of quirky irritated me and I saw an accumulation of details and characters that didn’t mesh well.

I’m now curious to know what the other Book Club participants thought about it. For another review, discover Guy’s thoughts here. He was delighted by the book.

PS: I can’t reconcile the cover of the book with anything I’ve encountered in the 36% I’ve read. The explanation must come later.

 

  1. June 29, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I haven’t read this one, but I suspect that Keane’s satire would be difficult to appreciate in another language. Good on you (as we say in Oz) for giving it a go!

    • June 29, 2014 at 11:06 am

      I have it in English but yes, I may have lacked the cultural background to fully see the satire there.

  2. June 29, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I loved Two Days in Aragon and those who read both said this was just as good.
    It does sound very different though. I’ll have to read it to compare. What you write about it so far sounds quite amusing.

    • June 29, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      You know I really like funny books but this one didn’t work for me. She writes well and I saw the fun and the humour but there were too many eccentric details.

      Perhaps it’s reading it after No Beast So Fierce, I don’t know.

  3. Brian Joseph
    June 29, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    The fact that the plot and symbols were obviously “by the book” is actually strange. Is it possible that is was at least in part parody?

    • June 29, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Maybe it was a parody. It escaped my notice, then. (and Guy’s, according to his review)

  4. June 29, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Have you read J. G Farrell’s Troubles?
    Anyway, as you already said, I loved this. It reminds me a little of Troubles for the setting, the eccentricities etc. I was thinking that if you liked one, you’d like the other….

    • June 29, 2014 at 10:19 pm

      I have Troubles on the kindle but I haven’t read it yet. We’ll see. I wonder if reading Time After Time after No Beast So Fierce influenced my reading. The two books are so different.

      • leroyhunter
        June 30, 2014 at 10:29 am

        Sometimes a big jump betwen books is a really good idea, sometimes it’s counterproductive. Haven’t read any Keane, but Troubles is fantastic, and if it’s comparable to that it must have something in it…
        I like what you say about the “exercise” – very offputting if you get that sense.

        • June 30, 2014 at 8:59 pm

          Usually reading something totally different is good. Perhaps the Bunker made such a strong impression that I had difficulties to switch to something else.

          I’ve only heard good things about Troubles.

  5. July 1, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    It sounds polite.

    There’s a review of Troubles at mine. It’s not polite. It is however brilliant.

    I tend to like jumps between books. It keeps things fresh.

    I do wonder if this is one of those that for some will be a favourite book, but for many will be quite unlikeable. Mannered fiction, and this sounds very mannered, can be very hit or miss and sometimes both depending on the particular reader.

    How did the rest of the group find it? I suppose looking at the comment dates you don’t know yet, but do let us know once you do. It would be very interesting to hear.

    • July 4, 2014 at 9:24 pm

      I downloaded Troubles after reading your review.

      I usually like jumps between books.The Bunker was intense, perhaps it explains why I had trouble switching from one book to the other.That said, the other book club readers didn’t like Time After Time either. Same vision of the book: the characters sounded fake and had too many problems for one person to be plausible. They read the book from cover to cover (dutifully, unlike me), so they were able to tell me the ending. I thought it was a bit too much too, like The Sense of an Ending. However, we’ve all read it in English and we’re not native speakers. We may have missed the humour in the book because we didn’t catch the subtlety of the text –contrary to Guy. So he’s probably more trustworthy on this one.

      PS: I’ve got another question: I thought I wasn’t supposed to use “jump” in cases like this and use “leap” instead. The rule was quite clear in my head. So now it’s blurred again. What’s the difference between jump and leap?

      • July 5, 2014 at 7:26 pm

        Leap suggests to me a particularly energetic or large jump. It also suggests to me crossing something or travelling a distance.

        So, I might jump in the air, make a jump between things, generally it’s a fairly multi-purpose word, but a leap would suggest I’m making a particular effort and that I’m going a decent distance.

        • July 6, 2014 at 8:49 pm

          Thanks for the explanation, Max.

  6. July 1, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Just read Guy’s review and it couldn’t be more different. Interesting, particularly as I trust you both. Clearly it is very much a hit or miss book for different readers as I was wondering.

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