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11 January 2014

Andrew Sean Greer:The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

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Living in 3 different time-worlds
Imagine living in 1985, and spending every other week in 1918 and 1941. In each time-world you have the same twin brother, aunt, partner or husband, and other friends.

Greta Wells lives in 1985 and has just lost her beloved twin brother, Felix, to AIDS. She is mourning him, along with his lover, Alan, who is also dying of AIDS. Greta has been living with her partner, Nathan (a doctor) for 10 years when, without warning, he leaves her for a younger woman. Greta plunges into a deep depression and medication and therapy can't help. "How I longed to live in any time but this one. It seemed cursed with sorrow and death."

Ruth and her doctor suggest one last chance treatment - electro-convulsive therapy. He advises her that the side effects are minimal but what he doesn't know is that it gives Greta her wish and she wakes up in 1918 just before the end of WWI. In that era she is married to Nathan, who is in Europe tending the wounded. She is living with her Aunt Ruth, her twin brother Felix is engaged to be married but is already secretly friends with Alan. Conveniently Greta is also on the same kind of electro-convulsive therapy each week which returns her back to 1985.

After the next treatment Greta wakes up in 1941 just before Pearl Harbour. She is having the same treatment because she has become depressed after Aunt Ruth is killed in a car crash when Greta was driving. She is married to Nathan and has a small child. Felix is also married with a child. And so it goes on with Greta spending a few days in each time and a few days back.

Full marks to Andrew Gear for a very imaginative and unusual plot which is more like parallel worlds than time travel but I found it difficult to imagine that Greta would be having the same treatment in such different times. The book was fascinating but I frequently got confused about which time-world Greta was living and how the different people related to one another at different times. While Greta was the main character I found the sub-plot of the different worlds faced by her homosexual brother to be a bit of a distraction.

Of course the big question was what time world Greta would end up in. I really didn't worry too much because I never really empathised with Greta as she was a pretty weak character in all worlds. I felt she was getting so much stimulus and answers from her other worlds that she could pull herself out of her depression and face life again in her own world. 3.5 stars.

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