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Book Notes: The Ministry of Time

Time travel. Forced proximity. A commander from a failed Arctic voyage during the time of Queen Victoria and a female government official in near future Britain. She’s his bridge to the current world. He’s in her charge for a year while the government waits to see if he can assimilate into the present. With this intriguing premise from debut author Kaliane Bradley, and following my accidental reading theme of polar expeditions (A Suffragist’s Guide to the Antarctic), I picked up The Ministry of Time and was hooked from page one.

Commander Graham Gore has been extracted at the point of his presumed death from a failed Arctic expedition, as part of the Ministry’s experiment with time travel. He’s one of five "expats" taken from various points in the past. To aid his transition into the modern age, the Ministry has assigned him a “bridge”, our unnamed narrator, put them up in a residence, and within vigorous parameters, let him loose to sink or swim. But all is not what it seems, and both Commander Gore and his bridge have to navigate the shifting loyalties and unknown agendas enacted upon them. Believe me when I say there’s a lot going on in these pages. 

This is a book that I'm eager to reread, now that I know how it ends. I must admit I never noticed that the narrator of the story remains unnamed throughout the book until it was pointed out by a review. I was just too absorbed by the writing and Graham and worrying about whether it was all going to go terribly, terribly wrong. I did notice Bradley’s agile use of language. Her prose is delightfully clever, and she doesn’t sacrifice the pacing of the plot to the crafting of beautifully descriptive sentences. And, as a reader who is not that interested in any mechanics of fictional time travel, I was amused by the narrator's similar take. When I was forced to stop at a crucial moment, I thought about the characters until I was able to get back to them. The distance gave me the space to remember that these are fictional characters, and that literary fiction is under no obligation to provide me with a happy/hopeful ending (like romance). It also gave me time to mull possible plot directions, but in the end, I was very surprised.

This smart and thought-provoking read is going on my best books of the year. Try The Ministry of Time if you like time travel, handsome Arctic explorers, and shady government shenanigans.