The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray (book review)

Finding the time to read ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ by John Wray meant I had to wrap myself in a bubble of borrowed time and ignore everything beyond the end of my nose. Wrapping yourself in a good book has that effect. People and time mover around you, coffee goes cold and the ironing stays wrinkly. But having unexpectedly acquired a pre-published copy, I felt it was my duty to read it over the weekend and thankfully it repaid my attention. This story had me at the title. I’m a sucker for titles and blurb. It sucked me in through it’s personal wormhole and made me dedicate several hours to digesting it.

Straightaway, we are introduced to our protagonist, Waldy, who has been named after his notorious great uncle, Waldemar ‘Von’Toula, by his kooky aunts. His father seemingly owed them this triumph. Being named after a war criminal who operated and experimented on people in a prison camp can affect a boy. Being part of a bloodline that is overly affected by time and those ‘lost time accidents’ even more so.

From love affair comes hurt and seclusion. Waldamar relates his affair with Mrs. Haven, treating her as the reader of this document. He meets her at a party and is instantly smitten. They share precious time together. Writing this document to her from his own personal time bubble, Waldamar is conscious of the clock not moving and being imprisoned in his aunt’s apartment as he last saw it, an archive of stuff which clogs up the internal working so much there is very little space to move. As he forces himself from his desk to the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom, he relates the story of his family and of the lost time accidents shrouded in myth since apparently discovered and then lost again by the pickle-maker Ottakar way back in Vienna in 1902.

From Ottakar to his sons, Kaspar and Waldamar, comes the story and goal of ‘lost time’ and so forward to Waldy’s father and himself by way of the weird aunts. Through the story of each generation, we see how time has shaped and in some cases destroyed the people who get to close to its secrets. It’s a tale of modern America shaped by its relationship with the Europe of the past and also of a romance that has its own lost time accidents. Some of it is bittersweet but it has an underlying humour and resignation

A novel about time was always going to be tricky. To quote ‘Windmills Of Your Mind’, it’s ‘like the circles that you find…never ending or beginning’. Sometimes I race through novels seeking the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything but, although I was reading it faster to get to the review, I knew this time that it is the telling of the tale and our own enjoyment of it that is most important and when we get to the end we may well want to return to the beginning.

We have the possibly unreliable narrator, skilful creation of the environment and some great quirky characters that defy definition. Truly, there is a parade of grotesques and it is hard to settle on one we could feel entirely comfortable with. It is never dull and I found myself comparing it with modern European novels based more in reality such as the quirky series from Jonas Jonasson. ‘The Lost Time Accidents’ has an attractive prose style and I’m now interested in reading John Wray’s two other novels to see if that style follows through.

Sue Davies

May 2016

(pub: Canongate Books. 512 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN-13: 978-1-78211-892-3)

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