A perfectly interesting story becomes a very ordinary read.
Sometimes you come across a book that is very predictable. You know that everything will turn out happy in the end, there will be that moment when love wins over everything and the protagonist will face everything bad with courage, perseverance and determination, blah blah blah. This is exactly what happens in The Time Keeper too. The story — if linearly and simply told — is that of a man who is condemned to live forever. And while doing so, he uses his power to change other people’s lives for the better... or so anyone with half a thinking mind would hope, fingers crossed. After all, the man who wrote the bestselling Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven cannot go that far off track, could he?
Mitch Albom’s latest begins with the tale of a primitive man; the love story of a cave dweller called Dor, his love Alli and his best friend, Nim. There is, as there always is, a power struggle and Dor and Alli are expelled from the clan. They move far away into the hills where life is happy — with children that soon come into their world — but lonely, separated from the rest of humanity. Then they have visitors; people who bring not just joy into Alli’s life, but death as well. She sickens and dies and Dor is alone; his children sent away to safety with extended family.
But Dor has a special power He is the first man on earth to be able to count. Not just that, he can count time; in hours, in moments. For having the temerity to do so, he is condemned to live for ever and ever, watching time going by, listening to all the voices that plead with him for more time. He becomes that venerable old man with a long beard: Father Time.
And then the tale wanders into the lives of Sarah Lemon, a teenager in the throes of first love, and Victor Delamonte, a multi-millionaire dying of cancer. Both of them want something unattainable: Sarah wants Ethan, while Victor wants life. But not everything wanted is ordained, they discover. Sarah swings between the euphoria of love not understood or gained, while Victor desperately seeks to stay alive in the face of approaching death, pushing back time rather than allowing it to flow in its destined rhythm. The teenager, facing the problems of impending adulthood and the senior citizen are fated to find that wall called disappointment.
Their plans do not work out. Sarah is rejected by Ethan and her sad story finds its way on to the Internet where social networking shows her exactly what a spectacle she has made of herself. Unable to cope, she attempts suicide. Victor pays to be frozen in ... err ... time until a cure can be found for his illness, but at the nth moment can only think of what he is leaving behind: his beloved wife Grace. So he backs out and faces life with both eyes finally open. These two unconnected individuals, so totally different from each other in every which way possible, find themselves in the same hospital, their lives saved by the one factor that can, conceivably, make a difference. Time.
Of course, Father Time a.k.a. Dor plays a crucial role here. He gets a haircut, changes his style statement from tattered robes to well-fitted black jeans and T-shirt and saves both Sarah and Victor from death. He gives them the gift of time. And, with a final grain of sand from his hourglass closed into his fist, he finds redemption. Sarah becomes a famous scientist, her education funded by Victor’s grant willed to her after his death about three months post the drama of death and dying and Dor learns that time does need to be respected and allowed to keep going through the hourglass of life. Clichés, ringing so loud that a reader would be deafened, make a perfectly interesting story a very ordinary read. Is this a book worth reading? Perhaps, if you have time to spend waiting for your flight or are stuck in the dentist’s waiting room. Incredibly easy to read, but barely worth the trouble.
The Time Keeper; Mitch Albom, Sphere, Rs.499.