Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review: Flashback Forward

Like The Blasphemer (which I'm sure I wrote a review for but can't find), this was a book I really, really wanted to like, but in the end, it could have been so much better.

Tam Cochrane is a sickly lad, confined to his bed in Glasgow in the 1880s. His only experience of adventure and the outside world is through books - that is until his father decides to sell up and head for New Zealand. As they take the four-month journey by ship, Tam's health begins to improve, and with it signs of a new Tam, fully engaging in the real world. After arriving in their new country, the family heads to Rotorua and Tarawera, only to be caught in the volcanic eruption of 1886. Having been concussed, Tam wakes up, groggy but still the fit young man he'd been growing into, except he finds he is in Napier, emerging from the ruins of the 1931 earthquake. What has happened to the last 45 years? Why is he still a young man? And who is the other Tam Cochrane, now living like a recluse back in Glasgow? An intriguing story, it is set among the cataclysmic events of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and deals with identity, with finding out who we really are in life and with living it to the full.

It started brilliantly, full of all the elements I love in a good story: identity, struggle, change, disaster, and best of all, time travel. However, as the story went on... and on... those elements seemed to disappear, and the most exciting element, the time travel, became a bit of an afterthought for the main character, something that wasn't very important but had me as the reader screaming out for a resolution which never came. I didn't need to know why he travelled through time, I just needed to know what would happen if the two Tam Cochrane's met, and also why it was Napier's earthquake he ended up in.
I could understand a lot of the author's intentions, but I found Tam was lacking in a lot of normal human emotion. He didn't miss his family much, he didn't fight for the love of his life hard enough, and he didn't try hard enough to find out what the hell happened to him and why, so for me, the character just wasn't strong enough, wasn't deep enough.
The way the author conveyed time passing also puzzled me. All in one page Tam could fall asleep, then wake up and a year had passed - no breaks in the chapters to indicate the author was skipping ahead, sometimes it was a case of one minute he's 18, nek minute, 25...
Also, like The Blasphemer, it all ended in such a rush with so many things left unresolved, which was just not okay.
So as much as I wanted to like Flashback Forward, I wish it was so much more.
Oh well, onto the next one! Janet Frame or Katherine Mansfield... hhmm who to pick...

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