Headline | 2018 (6 February) | 388p | Bought copy | Buy the book
It is 1997 and a terrible crime has destroyed a family in the small town of Canonsburg in Washington State. A mother and her young son and daughter have been slaughtered in their home – the father, a Navy SEAL, is missing, and the detectives must presume the worst, but so too is the teenage daughter Marian. This is all far too close to home for Shannon Moss of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who is assigned to the case. She knows this very house. It had been the home of her childhood best friend Courtney and Courtney too died a violent death, many years before. Moss is determined to find Marian alive, to stop history repeating itself. Nobody knows more about that than Moss. She is a time traveller. Her job is to journey into the future for clues to crimes in the past. But there is more to it than that – she has seen the Terminus, the end of humanity, and each time she travels into the future she learns that the date of the arrival of the Terminus is drawing closer and closer and closer.
When Moss discovers that the missing Navy SEAL was one of the crew members of the space ship USS Libra, she knows that this is a case of monumental significance. The Libra went missing far from Earth in time and space, lost in Dark Time. The clues must lie in the future but, Moss fears, she may also find them in her past.
The Gone World is one of those wonderful things – a mindboggling and jawdropping time-travelling thriller that wraps up the reader – and its poor main protagonists – in knots of paradoxes, conundrums and spacetime continuums. I go into a book like this not expecting to understand it all but, as long as it makes me believe in it, then I’m happy and this novel certainly did that.
It has a fantastic premise – and the apocalyptic appeal of the Terminus wasn’t lost on me – and it has several theories about the side-effects of time travel that are really fascinating. I particularly liked the idea that the futures visited by Moss and her colleagues would puff out of existence the moment that Moss left them. Her presence in that particular future would mean it would be rewritten and so could no longer exist. And some of the people in those futures know that. This adds a tension that works brilliantly. Who can Moss trust in the future? Can someone she was close to twenty years before still be relied upon? I love the questions that a good time travel novel pose and this novel is full of them.
Tom Sweterlitsch writes so beautifully. His vision of the end of the world is starkly, terrifyingly wondrous. The descriptions of the time travel itself, which involves a trip into space, are engrossing and stir up big themes about life on this planet, Earth. The structure is also very effective as we move back and forth in time, between first and third person perspectives.
But down to Earth, The Gone World is also a novel about families, relationships and that elusive goal of happiness. Shannon Moss is inevitably altered, physically and emotionally, by her journeys into her future and that makes her relationship with her mother particularly difficult. But it also alters her relationships with her colleagues. All of this is never far from Shannon’s mind, as is her past and her memories of Courtney. And the secrets don’t help. The past, present and future are all tangled up in this intriguing world.
The big themes are matched by the engrossing plot, which, in a novel as pleasingly complex as this one, could never be straightforward. There are shocking moments alongside the moments of tenderness and there are those wonderful instances when we come across the direct consequences of something that has happened in the past or future.
I can’t pretend to have understood everything that is going on in The Gone World and there were occasions when I became a little lost during the final third of the book. But, nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, just as I did its (unconnected although also a crime novel with a time travel twist) predecessor Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Clever time travel thrillers are to be savoured and The Gone World is especially thought-provoking, rewarding and mindbending.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow