SOMETIMES you come very unexpectedly across a gem of a book.
This was recently the case for me when a friend strongly recommended Robert Knowles’ debut novel, Fractured Time. Described simply as a science fiction book, I was less than keen to jump in, not being a big fan of the genre. But I forced my way through chapter 1 and then couldn’t put the book down.
The story is set in the Eastern Cape which is a treat for any local readers. A middle-aged couple, Richard and Yvonne Clarkson, arrive from the UK to make arrangements regarding his estranged (and now deceased) father’s estate.
The delicate descriptions of their marriage is cringingly recognisable to anyone who has been in a relationship for a long time. But very quickly the pedantic administrations of winding up an estate become embroiled in a gripping tale of international espionage involving the South African, British and American intelligence agencies.
Added to this mix is a charming hippyish scientist called Anthony – assistant to the late Clarkson senior, who shows the couple to an almost unbelievably modern, well-equipped workshop that holds the secrets to both the future and the past. This secret is also at the centre of the international drama that is unfolding here in the Eastern Cape.
As the reader is gently introduced to the machinations of scientific possibilities, so we are taken back on a journey of the dead man’s life. The book builds up a core group of complicated characters whose motives for being involved in the case are all different – the long-married couple who have reached a level of complacency and boredom in their relationship; the African-English MI6 agent who struggles with his own prejudices regarding identity politics in South Africa; the NIA agent whose brittle personality is symptomatic of the hurdles she faces as a woman in the South African intelligence forces.
The book is very cleverly written, making a completely plausible case for time-travel, even to the scientific Neanderthals among us. As the various histories of the characters come together the reader understands the real danger of this technology, and the story crescendos with some very unexpected twists at the end.
We should all support local artists whenever we can. This page-turning drama makes it easy to do that!