The parallel-timestreams literary novel

tegeus-Cromis

a better poet than swordsman
Joined
May 17, 2019
Messages
1,286
For a while, this kind of novel seemed very popular, particularly with British writers: novels featuring more than one narrative, one usually set in the present, one in the past, that had some kind of connection (for example, the characters in the present might be researching the characters in the past, or be their descendants, or be acting in a film or play about them), and where the stories in some way echoed each other. Sometimes, some kind of speculative-fiction link between the timestreams might be suggested, but it was not usually necessary. Probably the most famous example of this is A.S. Byatt's Possession (1990). Other examples are Peter Ackroyd's Hawksmoor (1985) and Chatterton (1987 -- three timestreams!) and D.M. Thomas's Ararat (1983). A later example is Michael Cunningham's The Hours (1998), and the movie based on it. The same conceit appeared in the 1981 movie of John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. The notion even appeared in the chick-flick genre, in Julie & Julia (2009).

I know there are other examples of this, but I can't think of them right now. Any others you can suggest? And why do you think at a specific time in British history, this structure was so popular?
 

tegeus-Cromis

a better poet than swordsman
Joined
May 17, 2019
Messages
1,286
Ah, yes: Tom Stoppard's 1993 play, Arcadia.

Also (with many, many timestreams), Richard McGuire's 1989 comic, "Here" (published in RAW), and the 2014 graphic novel into which it was expanded.
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Joined
Nov 10, 2008
Messages
11,503
Location
nearly the New Forest
A good bit later than the most of the ones you've cited, Labyrinth by Kate Mosse in 2005, and Time's Echo by Pamela Hartshorne from 2013. (Neither recommended, so don't go looking for them.)

I can't offer an dea of why it suddenly became popular -- if indeed it did, I've no idea if there are lots of others which precede and succeeded those you've mentioned -- save that as with all trends, people latch on and copy, and if something sells well, the market becomes saturated.
 

tegeus-Cromis

a better poet than swordsman
Joined
May 17, 2019
Messages
1,286
Ah, I found an article about this. Ted Underwood, "Stories of Parallel Lives and the Status Anxieties of Contemporary Historicism," Representations, 2004. I don't know how to link to it because it's a PDF. He dates this trend primarily to 1985-1995. He gives most of the examples I gave and a couple of others:

Screenshot_20200713-043143.png
 

tegeus-Cromis

a better poet than swordsman
Joined
May 17, 2019
Messages
1,286
But he says this is a "selective list." I'm sure there were more...
 

tegeus-Cromis

a better poet than swordsman
Joined
May 17, 2019
Messages
1,286
Alan Moore's novels, Voice of the Fire (1996) and Jerusalem (2016) also fit this trend.
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
5,182
Headlong by Michael Frayn (1999) would count as well. Perez-Reverte's The Dumas Club nearly counts, but doesn't have scenes set in the past. I had to study Arcadia in school, and haven't really thought about it since. It's interesting how the trend appeared and went (or at least died down), and why it became a trend. Certainly, a writer could do interesting things with that structure, and I can imagine the examination of fine art to be appealing to a certain type of reader, but if I was to list the things to go into a parody of a literary novel, I wouldn't include the multiple-timelines thing. Perhaps this goes to show that even in the world of literary novels, there are still fashions and things that writers just think are cool.
 

HareBrain

Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
11,142
Location
West Sussex, UK
The Chymical Wedding (Lindsay Clarke, 1989) also does this. And similar but not quite the same, in The Swimming Pool Library and The Folding Star, both by Alan Hollinghurst (and both also fitting within the 1985-95 frame), the main character has a present day story and is also researching a character in the past, but there are no scenes actually set in the past (IIRC). I'm sure there are other examples I'm not bringing to mind -- often the character being researched is a writer or artist. It's easy to see why these would have been popular with lit-fic readers: the feeling of depth and the suggestion of connections, plus the examination of art. Since those would still apply, I don't know why it might have died out.
 

BAYLOR

There Are Always new Things to Learn.
Joined
Jun 29, 2014
Messages
15,842
There are two novels which might fit this category

Time and Again by Jack Finney
Kelly Country by A. Bertram Chandler
 

Ori Vandewalle

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 5, 2020
Messages
93
Location
Greenbelt, MD
Gregory Benford's Timescape has two different timelines in parallel, as does Greg Egan's Incandescence. In the former, there's a literal, time travely connection. In the latter, it's more of the... suggested, implied type of connection.
 

Parson

This world is not my home
Supporter
Joined
Oct 11, 2006
Messages
9,144
Location
Iowa
Our own Dennis Taylor's Outland (2019) has a couple of different timelines that people can enter and exit. But none of that involves the same people existing at the same time in both timelines.
 

hitmouse

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 3, 2011
Messages
2,078
Walking on Glass. One of Iain Banks’ more underrated novels.
 

Rodders

|-O-| (-O-) |-O-|
Supporter
Joined
Nov 6, 2008
Messages
4,573
Would Greg Bear’s Eon fit the Bill? I remember “The Way” having several parallel time streams. I must try and re-read that book as it has been a very long time.
 

Vince W

Towel Champion
Supporter
Joined
Sep 9, 2011
Messages
3,654
I can't believe it's taken me this long to add William Gibson's The Peripheral and Agency. In the future, after a fiscal and social upheaval, someone (we never find out who) is able to use quantum tunnelling to communicate with the past, only with each new communication a new branch or 'stub' of timeline is created.
 
Top