Will You Be There? by Guillaume Musso
|Will You Be There? by Guillaume Musso|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Paul Harrop|
|Summary: An engaging, undemanding read with just enough credibility, suspense and invention to overcome the book's shaky premise.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: January 2008|
|Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd|
Elliott Cooper, a 60 year-old surgeon from San Francisco, is doing volunteer work in Cambodia. After selflessly operating on a child, he receives a mysterious bottle of pills from a grateful relative of his patient who has promised to grant his dearest wish. Elliott's wish is to see the love of his life once more before he succumbs to the cancer that is killing him.
The trouble is, his lover Ilena died 30 years previously. But the bottle of pills provides the means to see her, because they enable him to travel back in time. The novel alternates between the present (2006) and 1976. Short chapters, or sections of chapters, see Elliott as a 30-year-old confronting his aged self.
The ensuing novel tells an occasionally moving and often engaging story without getting enmeshed in the inevitable paradoxes and dilemmas of time travel. Although translated from the original French, the narrative is clear and easy to follow.
But, as with any translated work, it is difficult to know where to attribute praise or blame. In the latter category, I think the translation might be responsible for the number of clichés, especially in the early chapters, as well as the occasionally stilted dialogue. This spoilt parts of the book for me and, along with a Mills-and-Boonish sex scene, made it feel like an American TV soap, rather than the more existential treatise that its author maybe intended - given his taste for prefacing each chapter with quotes of varying degrees of profundity.
Nevertheless, despite the occasional linguistic bum note, I think the translator got the tone right. The author had clearly decided not to let credibility get in the way of a good story. He acknowledges the problems, both scientific and moral, associated with going back in time, but only in passing. His aim is to tell a compelling yarn. Probably wisely, he does not engage with most of the intractable questions that his story raises.
As such, most readers will take the book for what it is: a piece of escapist entertainment. Sections and chapters are all headed with the date in which they take place. We're even given the characters' ages each time, just in case our basic maths is shaky. The references to pop music and major world events are all well-known, if rather artificially woven in.
It is, then, an efficient, rather than an inspired piece of work, perhaps written with film adaptation in mind. The plot, despite its far-fetched premise, contains few surprises, and most characters are stereotypically perfect, rather than interestingly flawed. However, the scenes are vividly drawn, and the central character sufficiently-developed to enable a willing suspension of disbelief. Despite a shaky start, the book is an accessible, undemanding read.
The jacket blurb suggests that it would be perfect for reading groups. I'm sure it would provoke lively discussions in such gatherings, even if they do conclude that it doesn't stand among the landmarks in the time-travel genre.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
If you enjoy the subject of time travel then you might enjoy The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
You can read more book reviews or buy Will You Be There? by Guillaume Musso at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Will You Be There? by Guillaume Musso at Amazon.com.
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