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Any Time Now by Chris Butler
(Cosmos, $15.00, 161 pages, paperback; 2001.)

Dissatisfied with life in the hyper-urbanized future, a renegade time-traveller, Joe, returns to the year 2005, where he falls in love cover scanwith a woman, Kate, who works for a department of the UK Ministry of Defence. Other members of her department are concerned with trying to explain mysterious, anomalously behaving power cuts and regions of weirdly ionized air; these phenomena relate, of course, to Joe's arrivals and departures, as the near-future characters gradually learn. Kate sort of dallies with the notion of returning Joe's love, but she is still in love with husband Patrick, killed a couple of years ago in a bomb blast. Heading up the MoD's search for answers is a guy called Darnell, who is a completely ruthless bastard marked from the start as someone who by novel's end is going to Get His. Oh, yes, and there's a psychopath who's out to nail Kate.

This novel is strongly reminiscent of Alan Gibson's famous 1980 tv play The Flipside of Dominic Hyde in terms not just of overall plot but of its character dynamics: what mainly fascinates the mourning Kate about Joe is his aura of the innocent abroad, the dichotomy between his seeming naivety in some matters and his startling breadth of knowledge in others. And there is the same bittersweetness in Joe's realization that the love between himself and Kate is one that Can Never Be.

However, this novel lacks the assuredness of storytelling that marked the play. Indeed, the novel is distinctly uninvolving through the by-numbers nature of its characterization and its frequent clumsiness of writing -- often enough sentences start in one tense and end in another, and there is a persistent failure to establish any fixed point of view. Where a somewhat tired plot might be rescued through exquisite writing and characterization or where clumsy writing might be saved by a series of constantly surprising plot revelations, Any Time Now is able to score on neither count. We must hope for brighter things in the future from this relatively new writer.

Review by John Grant.

Elsewhere in infinity plus:

  • fiction - read an extract from Any Time Now by Chris Butler.
  • other stuff - find out about the publishers of this book, Cosmos Books.

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© John Grant 24 November 2001