REVIEW: Time Was, Ian McDonald

Thursday, 24 May 2018


A love story stitched across time and war, shaped by the power of books, and ultimately destroyed by it. In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers. Brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar, the two founded a love that could not be revealed. When the project went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presumed dead. Their bodies were never found. Now the two are lost in time, hunting each other across decades, leaving clues in books of poetry and trying to make their disparate timelines overlap.

Anything that is sold to me as a queer love story across the ages is, let’s be honest, always going to be a must-read for me. Far too often, stories featuring LGBTQ+ love have been erased from minds and the history books and it is often easy for people in this day and age to believe that these epic tales only happened once people were allowed to be out.
The synopsis of this short book just swept me away with visions of a couple being kept apart by circumstances out of their control. It is something that has always appealed to me - queer or not, science-fiction or not. But the realities of the novel did not live up to my grand visions.
The writing was exquisite, sure, wholly reflecting the idea that one of the characters is a poet, but the novel began to fail when it began to move away from the romance between Tom and Ben and their love across the ages. Instead, Ian McDonald decided to insert another part of the novel featuring a modern-day bookseller trying to decipher who the two men were. Of course I understand the merit of the choice, but I just wish with all of my heart that the framing device had been cut away in an edit and we got to spend more time with the real heroes of the tale.
It almost became a little like The Help in some ways. You know, a story that is supposed to be about black slaves that instead verges into the territory of focussing wholly on the exploits of this random white woman and how she becomes their saviour. Of course, there are unmistakable differences between the two tales which, even with the inclusion for who-knows-what-reason of a straight male protagonist, does not come close to being as offensive as the example I mention, but I cannot help but feel its echoes in this tale.
It is almost as someone read it and worried that Time Was was too gay; that, without the inclusion of this random straight dude it wouldn’t be marketable to the masses. I hope beyond all hope that was not the case, and I am just making silly inferences. Because, holy hell, the ferocity in the demand I have witnessed for queer literature over the years couldn’t be missed.
At least I am pretty certain it could not.


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Head on over to http://bit.ly/2y7JSWV for this book, as well as all of the others featured in my reviews, complete with the added bonuses of free worldwide shipping and bringing a little joy to my life.

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