A Ocean of Minutes
Usually when wiring these reviews I begin by classifying the novel into a genre, because, quite often it helps set the reader of my reviews in the right frame of mind (and yes, I’ll admit turn some people of a book sadly); but this one had me stumped….it’s a dystopian type novel, but it’s set IN THE PAST! I know – mindblowing!
As the quote on the cover says it’s about the “malleability of time”, but even this didn’t quite help me get my head around how the timeline of this book would mess with my head. And, I don’t mean that in a bad way – I actually enjoyed the way that my brain tried to sort the timelines and references to pop culture and place. It was pretty cool.
In this novel we meet a couple in 1981 – the USA has been hit by a terrible ‘flu like disease and in an attempt to try and save her lover Polly decides to travel to the future. This travel is essential as the money she is paid for this travel will allow Frank to receive the life saving treatment he needs. Their plan is simple they’ll meet up at a set date, time and location in the future and pick up where they left off. But, of course, it’s not that simple.
Polly is the one we follow as she navigates this future world – and although she’s only travelled a decade ahead the world is a much change place. It’s clear Lim doesn’t see humans as particularly good people as a greater deviate between those with and without power is far more marked in this book. Which of course make this a dystopian novel, rather than a utopian one. Too much more detail I fear however would ruin the story line, so I’ll not give too much more away. Much of my delight in the novel was in some of the ‘new world’ revelations.
It’s probably pretty clear I enjoyed this novel – I do love it when an author’s vision of a different time and place is so clear that there are few inconsistencies and you’re not left wondering “why” – why did they do that, why did that happen, why are they acting like that etc. and Lim delivers this nicely – concepts that could leave a reader thinking “huh?” are rare due to her deft weaving of current, past and possible times.
My only complaint is the end (I know I complain about endings a LOT; but there’s not a lot worse than an unsatisfactory one!) it was all a bit too twee. This novel for 90% of my reading time felt original, new, a common enough theme but explored under a new lens – and then at the end, it all fell apart for me. Lim resorted to stereotypical romance novel type clichés and I was gutted. I wish she’d been able to create a quirkier ending that fit better with the quirky nature of the rest of the novel. But, it is what it is and it wasn’t an unenjoyable read; to the contrary, for a majority of the book I was transfixed. So, for that alone I’d recommend it; but don’t hold your breath looking for a new type of conclusion – keep your expectations low and you may be pleasantly surprised.
About the Author
hea Lim’s writing has been published by the Southampton Review, the Guardian, Salon, the Millions, Bitch Magazine, Utne Reader and others, and she has received multiple awards and fellowships for her work, including artists’ grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.
She holds an MFA from the University of Houston and she previously served as nonfiction editor at Gulf Coast.She grew up in Singapore and lives in Toronto, where she is a professor of creative writing.