Thursday, September 8, 2011

Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

When I was in college I read the entire series by John Jakes that chronicled the lives of one family. I saw this book at Costco and came home and downloaded it. I loved the John Jakes series; hoping I will also love this.

The opening chapters of the adventure, in the 1920s and 1930s, tells the same events from the perspectives of several different people, each adding or changing what had been told before, and thereby deepening the understanding of the events and the people involved. This style had been used effectively before by William Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury - who people call "the greatest author the US South produced" - and by the editors of the four New Testament Gospels, where each Gospel writer revisits what the others told, with changes, deepening the readers' interest and understanding.

The story hangs on the mystery of Harry Clifton's parentage: who was his father? This mystery, in turn, creates others. What difference does it make who Harry's father is? What happened to Harry's mother's husband? Why do people keep her husband's whereabouts secret? If the mystery of Harry's parentage is not resolved, will it destroy his life?

We read about the extraordinary sacrifices of Harry's mother. She is poor. She is determined that Harry will get schooling, even though she lacks money to pay for the schooling, and even though someone is repeatedly sabotaging her efforts. We read about the very rich Barrington family, the grandfather who is a paragon of goodness, his son Hugo who is clearly evil, and his grandchildren Giles and Emma, and the strong positive emotional feelings that the two have toward Harry. We read also of the people who help Harry, people who travel distances to see his accomplishments even after they retire. These men and women include the poor disheveled bum Old Jack Tarr, a recluse, an eccentric, who everyone knows is crazy, who Harry comes to love, who despite having virtually no money makes sure that Harry has what he needs. And there is the famed Captain Tarrant, winner of the prestigious Victorian Cross, the man who saved many of his comrade's lives during the First World War by killing close to a dozen enemy soldiers, the man whom his comrades respect, a man readers will admire. We see how the onset of the Second World War affects these people.

This, in short, is a splendid well-told tale of generally very likable people who provoke our emotions, people who we like and want to know about.
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