Jenny Col­gan cel­e­brates a novel about tak­ing sec­ond chances

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Book Club - By Ken Grim­wood, 1986

Oh, for the gift of sec­ond chances.

I never have a prob­lem with the Weep­ing An­gels in Doc­tor Who. How are they mon­sters? Who wouldn’t want a shot at that? Just go back in time and buy up all of cen­tral Lon­don real es­tate. And bet on Le­ices­ter City or some­thing. Why any­one would ever run away from an An­gel is a mys­tery to me.

Any­way, this may have some bear­ing on why Re­play, by Ken Grim­wood, is my choice for Book Club.

It’s about ex­actly that; ev­ery time Jeff Win­ston dies, in a dis­ap­pointed mid­dle age, he wakes up again as a teenager and gets to have an­other run at it.

Like all great time-travel books, the premise is in­cred­i­bly sim­ple; and like all great time­travel books, it is then skil­fully pushed to its fur­thest ex­tent. The re­plays speed up ev­ery time too; you come back later and later in your own life, which makes it all even more com­pelling, as the re­play­ers race to fig­ure out what it is hap­pen­ing and why, be­fore they hit their fi­nal sec­onds.

It’s no spoiler to say we never do find out why, but, like Phil Con­nors in Ground­hog Day (and I sus­pect the mak­ers of that movie had at least a pass­ing ac­quain­tance with this book), Win­ston be­comes a bet­ter, wiser per­son sim­ply by try­ing.

Apart from the zippy prose, a lot of the fun here is in the de­tail. Although you may well take is­sue with his stance on adop­tion (I cer­tainly do), the idea Grim­wood cir­cles around is, of course, that love and tak­ing care of the peo­ple you love is all that mat­ters – while, rather ap­peal­ingly, point­ing out that there are plenty of peo­ple you could love. (At dif­fer­ent times he set­tles down hap­pily with three per­fectly nice women; it’s ex­tremely en­dear­ing. His op­po­site num­ber, Pamela, flounces off in one it­er­a­tion and de­cides to marry Dustin Hoff­man, some­thing that also ap­pears a highly ac­cept­able way of han­dling the sit­u­a­tion.)

The joy of a good time-travel book – and it is a genre I adore, from The Man Who Folded Him­self, through the ab­surdly de­tailed Time And Again, to Au­drey Nif­f­eneg­ger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (the car crash scene in which I con­sider to be one of the most up­set­ting in con­tem­po­rary fic­tion) – is when a ter­rific idea isn’t squan­dered, but con­sid­ered, and worked through care­fully, to pro­vide the most sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion pos­si­ble. Re­play for me could eas­ily have been twice as long, and there aren’t many books I would ever say that about. Although firmly set in the ’60s-’80s, this book has hardly dated.

In an in­ter­est­ing time-travel twist, it’s now been in de­vel­op­ment to be­come a film star­ring Ben Af­fleck for over 900 years; but due to that in­di­vid­ual’s his­tory of stink­ing up ev­ery sci-fi film he comes any­where near, prob­a­bly best to just en­joy the book while you can.

It has a tremen­dous mes­sage too: em­brace your life, even if it’s one where we don’t get any­thing like the sec­ond chances most of us feel we de­serve.

Although if it ever does hap­pen to you – or you ever meet a Weep­ing An­gel – 1) don’t for­get to mem­o­rise the out­comes to some ma­jor sport­ing events, for bet­ting pur­poses; and 2) prob­a­bly have a shot at mar­ry­ing Dustin Hoff­man.

Jenny T Col­gan’s Re­sis­tance Is Fu­tile and Doc­tor Who: In The Blood are out now in pa­per­back. She has also writ­ten two books as Jane Beaton.

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