Jenny Colgan celebrates a novel about taking second chances
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.