Mitch Albom: The Time Keeper
Mitch Albom is an author of internationally bestselling books, including Tuesdays with Morrie, which topped the New York Times bestseller list in 2010. So he knew what he was doing when he sat down to write another novel about spirituality in a modern setting. In The Time Keeper, he sticks to his tried and tested literary recipe, which follows an elderly man on an existential journey to a grand realisation. This novel earns its place on the bookshelf for its compelling and original storyline; the man who first tried to measure time is punished by living an eternity. However, Albom fails to probe the full depths of this idea and is unable to write with enough style to carry it through into more than a clichéd censure on modern times.
The novel begins in the form of a fable, and introduces us to simpler days when the concept of time, and science, had not been invented, until one man begins to count. This simple yet compelling concept is complemented by Albom’s soft and sparse writing style, as he introduces the three children who become the main characters for this portion of the story. From this humble setting, Albom weaves a delicate love story between two of the characters, which deserves far more attention in the wider novel, as the relationship and mythic setting are abandoned just thirty-six pages in.
Hereafter, readers are treated to a cringingly outdated portrayal of the modern world. Two further characters are introduced so brashly that they lose all credibility and the plot-line is near-enough revealed as soon as we meet them. For example, Albom’s depiction of a teenage girl is stripped down to fat-geek-meets-popular-boy format. The mind boggles as to what lesson is to be learnt here. As if being overweight wasn’t enough for the poor girl, Albom also has her use ‘youngster slang’ which just comes across as awkward and offensive to anyone who was ever a teenager. This character falls completely flat and is a drain on the book’s enticing mysticism.
The narrative switches between epochs and generations, but it becomes apparent that the writer is unable to reflect this dexterity in his own writing. Compared to Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, or even an episode of Doctor Who, Albom shows himself unable to follow the twisting time frame he creates.
Certainly Albom doesn’t shy away from life’s big questions, but he fails to treat them with the maturity or depth that any reader who’s encountered such works as Yann Martell’s Life of Pi would expect. The entire 224 pages are a demonstration of modern society’s obsession with commodifying time. This is a valid and timely enquiry, but it is done in such a condescending and single-minded way that it becomes frustrating.
Albom may also like to inquire after the wonder and curiosity of time as, in our post-Hawking era, this might be a point ready for re-examination. Albom’s ideas, plot and characters fail to keep up with the time he is writing for, and as such The Time Keeper does not do justice to its truly fascinating premise.