This book is a book lover’s treasure. It’s not written by a British author; Palma is Spanish, I believe. But the book is very British, in my opinion. It is set in England, in 1896, and many of the characters featured walk straight out of English history. I love love love historical fiction, and am particularly smitten with the late 19th century. This was ideal for me, obviously. And what other book has H.G. Wells, Bram Stroker, Henry James, fake time travel, real time travel, and Jack the Ripper?
The novel contains three intertwined stories, all different, all wonderful. Some questions posed in the first story are not answered until the end, but they are all eventually answered in wonderful and unexpected ways.
I loved everything about this book, from the amazing packaging Simon & Schuster put together:
to the fact that it absolutely avoided genre conventions and cliches. I am normally pretty alert to the conventions of whatever book I happen to be reading, and am able to guess fairly accurately what will or will not happen. 70% through this novel, I was still unsure whether it was entirely based in reality or had elements of the fantastical within. Each story was a surprise and something novel. That’s rare nowadays, to be honest. I heard from someone at S&S that Palma’s idea regarding these stories was to imagine the impact a particular novel (in this case, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells) has on society and culture in its time. I think that’s a really cool and unique way of approaching the value of literature and it’s very real effect on its world.
I can’t say enough about my enjoyment of the book. It was a delight to read. I was sold with the premise, but also really loved the prose. It was simple, but not minimalistic, and definitely engaging and active in a way I find hard to describe. It was an adventure to read. I am honestly not sure whether to attribute this style to Palma or to his translator. I often wonder how much of the credit should go to the unsung heroes (or villains) that translate foreign works. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, for example, was pretty terrible, in my opinion. I enjoyed the movies much more than the book, and I wonder how much of that has to do with the translation. But that’s a separate diatribe, so I will keep to my praise of the book at hand.
I cannot stress how much I love it when books are about books, or about writing. Palma has sprinkled in bits about Wells writing his novels, about his process and his feelings regarding his works. We even get a sense of how Stoker and James worked and lived around literature. As an aspiring writer, I adore these glimpses, fictional or not, into the world of famous writers.
In short, I loved this book. I’ve heard rumblings of two more, and in doing a search online it seems that the second one was published a few weeks ago in Spanish. It’s called El Mapa Del Cielo or The Map of the Sky. But I don’t read Spanish nearly well enough to read a full-length novel in it. So hopefully Atria, or someone, will pick up the American or UK rights to the second one soon and I’ll get to experience more of Palma’s stories.