We want to believe that the trajectories of our lives are determined by the choices we make from time to time but we know that there are external forces that may act against us.
So much of our lives are shaped by sliding door moments, and where we are. We all know that who you will meet is about you being at the place at a certain time. Whoever you meet in your life is mostly serendipitous. You may think that you have met the right person but at the wrong time. When that happens, it is probably just not meant to be. While it may be a matter of design, timing and randomness for happenings in our lives, ultimately it is mostly our convictions and circumstances that guide us along in this modern era. Nonetheless a story centred on a love-struck couple who are from different backgrounds and premised on the concept of ‘what if ‘ in the twentieth century is always a good read.
And thus What time is Love? by Holly William caught my attention. Happy to have read it over the weekend though I cannot relate entirely to the various cultural and political settings in the story that span from the forties to the nineties. Guess that is the whole point of reading a story in a foreign setting. Fictions are portals to a world different from your own and through reading, you can also find that you are not that different when come to experiencing love and navigating social and familiar expectations.
The novel, What time is Love? imagines what would happen if Violet Lewis and Albert Brinkforth meet at different years in the 20th century : : 1947, 1967, and 1987. They share the same birthdates and time, 21st January.
In the first scenario, both Violet and Albert are born on 21 January ,1927 at 6.42 a.m. In the second scenario, they are born at 7.31 a.m. on 21 January 1947. In the third scenario, they are born in 1967 at 8.09 a.m. Each time they meet when they are twenty years old. Imagine over these years, their lives collide again and again and in each era, they must navigate differences in class, gender, privileges, ambition and opportunity set against social and political change. As they embrace all the different trappings of the era, there are different outcomes to their courtship.
In all three alternate realities,Violet is working class and Welsh. She is headstrong and smart. Albert Peregrine Brinkforth is from Yorkshire. His family lives in Farley Hall near Knaresborough. Their backgrounds are poles apart.
In the 1940s version, Violet’s family thinks that a job at the post office is the limit of her ambition. She meets Albert through his sister when she worked alongside as a telegraphist in London during the war. Albert is an undergraduate at Oxford University. In the 60s, it is Miss Ketterick who has made sure that Violet will stay on for sixth form and not taking the job at Watts the clothing shop in town. She studies English at the University of Sheffield where she meets Albert. After graduating, Albert becomes a radical journalist in San Francisco experimenting with free love that agrees with Violet who is free-spirited and not Albert ironically. In the 80s, Violet and Albert connect at a rave in a field. She studies at University of Bristol and he drops out of a law degree at London School of Economics. He is anti-establishment and he lives in a squat. His father is Harold Brinkhust, ‘Conservative MP , notorious architect of Thatcher’s discrimination of the trade unions‘. Violet becomes the political writer and Albert is an eco-activist. They first meet December 1987 and then they meet again in the summer of 1989 at a rave on a field. They do not meet again until March 1991. Violet is now a journalist for a Welsh newspaper and Albert an eco warrior who has set up a camp designed to stop a bypass being built through the ancient forest.
Whenever the two first locks into eye contact, there is a feeling of déjà vu. In the 1987 story, before heading back for Christmas, Violet goes to a rave party held in a ‘ tiny room, the lights flickering between yellow and a copper-sulphate blue, smudged by the clouds and jubilant hisses of dry ice that, smell of strawberries‘. Violet is there with her friend Mel and Albert is there with Grepsy. Here is an excerpt:
‘Back in a sec.’ Albert clapped Grepsy on the shoulder and went to find the toilets.
‘Sorry, can I …’ He tried to move round a short girl with a dark head of hair, her hands coiling abve her closed eyes. Then they suddenly snapped open.
The music crashed io the depths of the earth. A strobe kicked into .She was frozen. Flickering , but frozen. Locked into eye contact. A strange jolt of recognition. I know you.
Then the warmth and the light flooded back.
‘Sorry, were you trying to get to the loo?‘
And she swerved elaborately, her arms indicating the way. When Albert came out, he couldn’t remember where she had been. And he couldn’t find Grepsy either. but he started dancing again, and then time didn’t so much speed up as absent itself entirely. ‘
The story does make me reminisce about those years at the university as they were formative years for me. I can certainly relate to the optimism and that hope about changing the world in my twenties. That was another lifetime.
The novel is well written and an interesting read.
What time is Love is a debut by Holly Williams