Sunday September 16, 2012
Review by KENNETH CHAW
The Time Keeper
Author: Mitch Albom
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group, 222 pages
ONCE again, Mitch Albom is out to hit readers with a tonne of bricks, (metaphorically, of course) with The Time Keeper.
Since his first international hit, Tuesdays With Morrie, in 1997, Albom has been inspiring readers around the world with simple yet invaluable lessons on life and the afterlife. Much of his success can be attributed to his ability to use clear and direct prose to deliver answers to some of life’s most complex questions.
But in his latest fiction work, Albom ambitiously switches things up by taking on a new topic – time.
The Time Keeper is about Father Time – yes, the old, bearded guy often used to embellish New Year cards and ornaments – and his role as the first man to discover time.
Readers are transported thousands of years back to mankind’s earliest days on Earth, when a much younger version of the timekeeper lived.
Father Time is an ordinary boy known only as Dor. But unlike other boys, he does not enjoy roughhousing with his peers nor is he particularly adept at physical activities. Instead, the boy develops a special interest in numbers, and an eye for detail.
One day, while sitting in the afternoon sun, Dor drives a twig into the ground and notices the position where its shadow falls. He places a stone to mark the tip of the shadow but realises moments later that it has moved.
The day after, he returns to the same spot and finds that the shadow of the twig meets the stone at precisely the same moment as the day before.
From then on, Man becomes obsessed with the idea of time and having more of it. As such, the mysterious appearance of an old man (presumably God) sends Dor to a cave – leaving behind the love of his life Alli – where he serves his punishment for discovering time. There, Dor is haunted by the voices of people pleading for more time during his stay.
Thousands of years later, Dor is set free and finds himself caught up in the hustle and bustle of today’s world. Here, he is tasked to teach two people the true meaning of time. Dying millionaire Victor wants to prolong his time on Earth to expand his business, whereas high school oddball Sarah is contemplating suicide after being rejected by her love interest.
As an Albom fan, I sincerely wanted to like The Time Keeper the way I did his other books. Don’t get me wrong; this novel is a beguiling read, but it isn’t the author at his finest.
First, the storyline is far more complicated than what his fans are used to. Albom whisks readers back to ancient times to tell the story of Father Time and simultaneously catches up with Victor and Sarah in the present.
From a writing point of view, for these stories to run parallel, he must be able to masterfully tie them together. In this respect, Albom misses the mark at times.
I also find his decision to include the supernatural and realistically impossible slightly off-putting. Later in the story, readers will find a mysterious apparatus (I won’t spoil the book for you) that will help Father Time in his mission.
Of course, one may argue that his books have always revolved around the supernatural but the idea of heaven (The Five People You Meet In Heaven) or visiting souls on Earth (For One More Day) is widely accepted among readers.
Also, he strikes me as one-sided in his viewpoint on time. The writer unequivocally deems Dor’s discovery of time as the cause of the downfall of the human race, thus the God-like character’s decision to banish Dor to the cave.
Albom fails to explore – or at the very least, recognise – the good the invention of time may have brought, and renders his argument a bit too simplistically.
But ultimately, what’s most important is whether he succeeds in what he has always set out to do in all his writing – inspire readers. In this regard, I’m glad to say he does.
If there’s anyone who can weave together a story using simple, everyday occurrences and still deliver compelling, life-changing messages, it’s Albom. Readers, whether or not they agree with his views, will gain precious insights into the meaning and value of time. I can already imagine the many troubled youths who will see their struggles in Sarah’s suffering and draw strength from her.
As to whether The Time Keeper will fly off the shelves like Albom’s previous releases or go straight into the bargain bin instead, I suppose only time will tell.