1991: Time’s Arrow

Martin Amis - Time's Arrow (1991)In Martin Amis’s 1991 novel, Time’s Arrow, time flows backwards. It’s not simply that the events are narrated in reverse order; rather, it’s as if the characters were in a film being show in reverse. Here’s how eating works, for example:

First I stack the clean plates in the dishwasher, which works okay, I guess, like all my other labor-saving devices…then you select a soiled dish, collect some scraps from the garbage, and settle down for a short wait. Various items get gulped up into my mouth, and after skillful massage with tongue and teeth I transfer them to the plate for additional sculpture with knife and fork and spoon. That bit’s quite therapeutic at least, unless you’re having soup or something, which can be a real sentence. Next you face the laborious business of cooling, of reassembly, of storage, before the return of these foodstuffs to the Superette, where, admittedly, I am promptly and generously reimbursed for my pains. Then you tool down the aisles, with trolley or basket, returning each can and packet to its rightful place.

At the beginning of the novel, the narrator is a retired doctor living quietly in the USA. After moving to New York and then to Portugal, he eventually finds himself in Auschwitz, where he assists a Josef Mengele-like figure in—due to the reverse causality of the novel’s universe—healing the sick and bringing the dead to life.

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