So I picked this book primarily because it has the same name as a Star Trek episode. In fact, if you google, ‘Time’s Arrow’, it brings up that episode and this book.
It’s also a scientific term referring to the ‘one-way direction’ of time, something the book plays around with.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
We start at the moment of an old man’s death in a US hospital , our protagonist is a separate consciousness trapped inside his head. He’s in the body of Todd T Friendly. He’s as confused as we are, he’s powerless and can only watch, trying to make of the world in front of him.
Why am I walking backwards into the house? Wait. Is that the dusk coming or is it the dawn? What is the- what is the sequence of the journey I am on? What are it’s rules?
Because this is a world where everything is going backwards, people walk and talk backwards, Tod Friendly recovers from his death and gets fitter and younger. His improving physical strength seems like one of the pluses of this strange backwards world, although the children that turn into babies and then disappear completely were a little heart breaking. Or watching Tod’s garden slowly deteriorate after all his hard work.
Also the bathroom stuff…
And there it is already: that humiliating warm smell. I lower my pants and make with the magic handle. Suddenly, it’s all there, complete with toilet paper, which you use and then deftly wind back on to the roll. Later, you pull up your pants and wait for the pain to go away.
Our protagonist starts to get used to the strange world he’s in, but that doesn’t explain Tod’s nightmares or the strange messages from New York he keeps getting.
‘Dear Tod Friendly: I hope you are in god health. The weather here continues to be temperate’
But we learn more about him as we go backwards through his life. The blurb on the back tells you that Tod T Friendly was a Nazi doctor, so you know where it’s all heading from the get-go. And it is pretty yucky, there is almost something more disturbing in our narrator’s description of our good works as we reanimate dead Jewish bodies in gas chambers.
I read a negative review that condemned it all as a gimmick, and I guess it is a gimmick but I thought it worked really well. I was impressed that Amis kept it up so well through the book, and found it very compelling.