This novel defies easy categorisation. Yes, it is about parallel worlds and astral planes through which our spirits can move. Yes, that makes it speculative fiction but one in which our world is altered at a historical and spiritual level both in the future and in the past – something not many books in the genre attempt to do.
A River Called Time reimagines our world without the colonialism we know, allowing for a culture that prizes older religions and cultures from Africa, India and China above Christianity, Islam, Judaism. But humans remain humans and our ability to create division and discrimination continues. The Ark, the promised structure created as a haven and saviour from a world crippled by environmental collapse, isn’t all Markriss Denny thought it was promised to be. His journey behind its walls lifts him out of his body and into alternative histories in which the same characters must be met and understood anew.
Time is the river that flows on an astral plane. Dipping in and out of its ebb and flow, Markriss Denny searches for another spirit like himself. One who may threaten this freedom of movement.
In this way, we are constantly slipping into new versions of Markriss and new interpretations of the Ark in an altered reality. This temporal and spatial slippage forces the structure of the novel in different and unusual directions. Gone is the standard western teleology. This is refreshing, exciting and baffling. No wonder it took Courttia Newland so long to research and write. This is a book that will reward time spent on it. I have put off writing my review of it because I know any confusions I’m left with are my own and not those of the novel itself. A River Called Time is a book that challenges its reader to reinvent their own ideas about how to construct meaning. It is a book that asks to be reread and studied.
I don’t claim to understand everything this book is trying to say to me, but I can say that anyone taking a walk through its pages will come away with tantalising questions about the riches our western-centric culture has chosen to ignore and how differently we might see the world if we were to challenge the structures colonialism has left in its wake. And Newland has offered a reading list for those who might want to explore certain ideas further.
I look forward to rereading A River Called Time and understanding it better. I think you’ll know if this is something that appeals to you. Whether it appeals or not, you are sure to hear a lot more about this book and rightly so.
I’ll be reviewing Nightshift by Kiare Ladner next, followed by Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan.