What could be more exciting for a bibliophile than finding traces of an intimate story outside the text between the pages of a book: a personalized bookmark, a dried hellebore, a note scribbled in the moment. One of these blessed is Emmett Leigh, a bookstore in bedroom in London. In the liquidation piles of a bookstore that is closing, he finds a collection of poetry, published on his own account, and entitled time was by a certain E. L. The volume pleases him enough to consider it as spoils to spare. Above all, he finds in it, preserved since World War II, a mysterious love letter between Tom and Ben. The conflict has just separated the two lovers after a few days cooing in Cairo. “You get so lazy when you are in love. but love is laziness, a gift of time to others so that they squander it or invest it. […] I’m afraid of being separated from you. If this happens, I will leave a copy here, in the usual place. The time was, it will be again. ”
Seventy-five years have passed since these sweet words, we imagine the worst. But the intrigued narrator decides to carry out research starting from the indices disseminated in the mail and tries to know what became of the two protagonists. Ian McDonald’s novella takes over the investigation with suspicion of spying. The mystery gets worse with the discovery of a photo from 1915 which shows the two men in the 5e Norfolk, whole regiment passed out at the Dardanelles. “They advanced in flames and smoke and we never saw them again, they disappeared in the smoke. The Battalion gone. “ Still an unrealized historical puzzle used by the British writer in his fiction. Appropriate event to mix quantum physics. Crucial moment which rocked the novel in science fiction: the physiognomy of the two men did not change between 1915 and 1940.
Well done, time was save for the end a surprising reversal. The pirouette seems at first logical, or is it intentionally little explained. This ultimately gives the impression of having been embarked on an infinitely reproducible time loop. As if, at the bottom, the external history which had escaped from the pages of the collection, was enclosed as in a book, and repeating itself endlessly.
Time was by Ian McDonald, translated from English by Gilles Goullet, cover illustration by Aurélien Police, Le Bélial, 140 pp., € 9.90.