Time and Regret
Lake Union Publishing
Aug 16, 2016
also available as ebook
Genre: historical mystery
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Having already read two novels by M.K. Tod, Unravelled and Lies Told in Silence, I was eager to discover her latest work, especially as Time and Regret is not only a historical novel, but a historical mystery, which currently tends to become my favorite genre. And oh my, that fit the bill!
The book opens in Spring 1991, with a first person narrative:
Grace, mother of two teenagers, is grieving, as her husband asked for a divorce. As she is going through the attic to get rid of stuff, she stumbles upon an old box left by her dear grandfather Martin, who actually raised her.
In the box is his diary dated from the time he served as a captain during World War I in France and mostly Belgium. There’s also a very strange note he left for her, entrusting her with a special and mysterious task. Grace has no clue what this is all about, she can only feel a lot of guilt from her grandfather in it.
To try to understand what he went through these terrible years and what he meant her to do, she decides to revisit the places he was in as a soldier. A change of scenery can only be helpful for her own personal issues.
That’s the first level of the story.
But this unique historical mystery offers a very rich triple level of narration:
besides Grace’s first person narrative in the 1990s, the chapters also offer passages in the present tense and first coming directly from Martin’s diary, starting in February 1915, when he enlisted.
This second level is enhanced by another narration about Martin’s experience at war, this time in the third person narrative.
I think this is the first time I read a book containing a first person and a third person narrative, PLUS excerpts from a diary. And this worked beautifully, creating so much dynamism to the whole story.
It also helped delve deeper into what Grace is experiencing emotionally, as well as what her grandfather went through in his own time, facing a war that he felt useless and unnecessary violent. And in which misinformation led to regretful disasters.
This isn’t war, it’s slaughter.
As the months go by, Captain Martin starts losing his men, and his friends, one after the other. And then, her sister comes as a nurse to work with the Red Cross…
The mystery gets more intriguing when Grace arrives in France. She has the feeling someone is following her. But who, and why? Has this anything to do with her divorce or with the mysterious mission her grandfather left her? Will Grace manage to fulfill her mission before this unknown enemy gets to her?
The book is also a travelogue, as Grace discovers the main scenes of the war in Northern France and Belgium, places of sad repute, such as Ypres, Bailleul, la Somme, Vimy, to name just a few (places the author’s relative himself went to fight).
Grace gets help from a museum curator, whose grandfather also fought in WWI.
You can’t have a travelog in France and Belgium without including restaurants and amazing meals. The delicious descriptions were a nice reprieve, helping to reach a healthy and bearable balance with the atrocities and grief of war, both for Grace and the readers.
Originally planned to understand better what her grandfather went through and how to solve the puzzle he left her, the trip actually leads Grace to self-discovery, in a real deep way. There’s an element of romance, but mind you, this is not chick lit.
I wanted to learn from these mistakes and live my life looking forward, not backward. I could not change the past, but I could change the way I lived my future.
I find the author reached an amazing balance between the the war violence and emotional upheavals experienced by Martin and what Grace is going through a century later. Based on serious historical research and background, it never overwhelms you with over dramatization.
Objectivity is always at the ready, for instance with the insertion of a psychologist work (whom Martin met when he went to rest a bit in London in the middle of the war). Grief and survivor guilt were big issues to deal with.
I really enjoyed the mystery included in the story, that added a nice suspense, which I believe also helped reach a good emotional balance for the whole work.
The only thing that didn’t really work too well for me is the title. If I had not known the author, I would probably have skipped it. I know you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, and probably not by its title either, but when book bloggers like me hear about zillions of books every day, a title is extremely important.
EN DEUX MOTS : Excellent roman policier historique qui a lieu prendant la première guerre mondiale. Le suspense aide à apporter un équilibre face aux horreurs de la guerre. Notons aussi un triple niveau de narration qui marche ici à merveille : à la première personne du singulier pour le présent de la narrattrice dans les années 1990s, puis des extraits du journal de guerre de son grand-père, et enfin un récit à la troisième personne du singulier pour prendre du recul et analyser ce que cet homme a connu pendant ce temps dramatique
VERDICT: Powerful historical mystery. A unique triple level of narration helps reach a healthy balance between the emotional journey of the narrator and what her grandfather went through during WWI. Clever.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
Through her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a man very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harboring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Time and Regret is M.K. Tod’s third novel.
She began writing in 2005
while living as an expat in Hong Kong.
What started as an interest in her grandparents’ lives
turned into a full-time occupation writing historical fiction.
Her novel Unravelled was awarded Indie Editor’s Choice
by the Historical Novel Society.
In addition to writing historical novels,
she blogs about reading and writing historical fiction at http://www.awriterofhistory.com,
reviews books for the Historical Novel Society
and the Washington Independent Review of Books,
and has conducted three highly respected reader surveys.
She lives in Toronto, Canada,
with her husband and is the mother of two adult children.
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