One Red Thread by Ernie Wood isn’t just a novel – it’s time travel literature!
Perhaps I should mention my disclaimer first (i.e. that “I received a copy of One Red Thread free of charge in exchange for an honest review”). And when the book did make it’s way over to me I was very impressed that what I’d received was a hard back. With a dust jacket! It’s a small thing maybe, but to a simple chap such as myself who prefers reading on real paper, holding a hardback already exudes quality!
But enough about the book cover. We’re not meant to judge a book that way! 😉
It turns out there’s a note from Ernie:
“Follow your thread!”
Oh dear. A reference that I’d contacted Ernie on the Goodreads time travel group forum and hadn’t replied? I’d like to think that that sort of rudeness / ignorance isn’t in my nature – and indeed it turns out that the mystery is much more simple – and admittedly blindingly obvious – a tie in to the book title!
The thread – oh what a tangled web we weave!
In a radio interview with WCHL-FM radio, Ernie describes One Red Thread not as a scifi or time travel novel, but as a novel which focuses more on the significance of having knowledge of the past and bringing it to the present.
The contents of the book are complex, but the premise is simple. The main character, Eddy McBride, seeks to solve the mystery of his rich family history and the impact it has on his present. It is in this way that he finds and follows his one red thread – the common thread that runs through his history.
Initially I felt that One Red Thread didn’t have so much a story line as a general wandering along Eddy’s train of thought. It seemed to be somewhat of a ‘2 dimensional’ approach of not just moving the story forwards but one where it takes the reader on little excursions and then back again.
After a while it struck me that One Red Thread is written in the same way as painting a water colour painting – gradually adding layer upon layer, and in this way it has a ‘lateral’ level as well as a deep one.
Time travel literature
Eddy is an over-thinker. He thinks about everything in incredible detail and I think it would be fair to say that often-times it’s to the detriment of relationships around him. Sometimes I shared his wife’s feelings (Sheila) and became frustrated with Eddy in how he continually obsessed and analysed situations.
But this is his character, and in reading Eddy’s description of the world about him and his journey through his thoughts One Red Thread reminded me of reading a D. H. Lawrence book in my English Literature class way back, where a church spire wasn’t a church spire – it was a connection between Heaven and Earth. A horse in a field wasn’t a horse in a field – it was a phallic symbol. Or so said my teacher. (Or maybe he didn’t…I later went on to fail the class!)
Likewise, Eddy ties huge significances to everything he casts his eyes on and certainly does not call a spade a spade. At one point in the novel he’s offered a tomato, and he makes the comment that at last he has something “…at face value. For once.” (Was he so lucky?) I was surprised at his comment as it’s invariably his own fault that things become things which are not their face value!
Eddy is one of a handful of main characters, but this ‘literary style’ of writing continues with all of them and in these cases the power of Ernie’s writing really shines through!
Point of view
Ernie has a truly beautiful writing style. But in particular I want to highlight the impact of the shared points of view. One Red Thread sees a change in view from the vantage of a different perspective in both time and character and this is largely due to the occasional change in first person character.
One Red Thread begins through Eddy’s eyes, and occasionally we read through Sheila’s – and later through Tim’s (their business associate).
I know many readers don’t like such changes but personally I don’t understand (their view! 😉 ) because this is pretty much what a third person narrative would do. But by deliberately turning each character involved into a pair of glasses through which we can view the events and experience and witness events and feelings first hand, this is a very powerful tool!
When you read a first person novel you get a detailed insight into characters and events as seen through that main protagonist. But what if his views are one-sided, warped or just plain wrong? In One Red Thread we see these traits through Eddy’s wife’s eyes.
Sheila provides information on thoughts, feelings and emotions whilst Eddy focuses on the physical details of things around him often ignoring people. Eddy’s more interested in the past, Sheila in the present. She’s pregnant, and considerations about the new life growing is naturally key on the future as well.
Through Eddy’s eyes Sheila is cold and distant but actually we see she’s a silent observer too – mostly of Eddy – and cares for him in a careful hands-off approach. She reminds me of a mother letting go of a child as he learns to walk but she’s close by in case there’s any trouble all the while hoping there won’t be – but still kind of expecting it.
Sheila’s a thinker too, and often overly so. In this way she’s just like Eddy by creating mountains out of molehills. At one time she throws a wobbly when she finds Eddy clutching a baseball, upset that he’s more interested in looking back in the past instead of into the future – though admittedly this is probably a fair thought given as they’re about to have a baby.
I can understand this sentiment. When I was moping about a girlfriend who’d dumped me, my mates sister told me I couldn’t have a future if I was always looking back to the past. It seems to be a bit like this with Eddy, and I think this is what Sheila was concerned about.
There’s a third person in the first person roll-up; Tim. I must confess that I didn’t fully understand Tim’s angle on things, but I think the important aspect is that he’s in love with Libby, one of Eddy’s childhood friends who comes first to Eddy then to Sheila and Tim, seeking help in procuring their architectural services in redesigning a building from their shared past.
Tim is a photographer so much of his view on the world is in capturing the moment. But his chief ‘role’ in One Red Thread is in trying to protect Libby.
Libby is the hidden star of the novel who is unable to travel in time as Eddy and Sheila are, but seeks most desperately to be able to do so. Eventually she manages to, though initially these are at the wrong times and wrong places – and wrong levels of interaction. But it’s Libby who determines that the past needs to be changed.
The Time travel element
In my review of z2 (Sherrie Cronin) I made the comment that thankfully events are ‘live’ instead of a series of flashbacks which in contrast would be dull to read.
It turns out that One Red Thread is full of memories and flashbacks – and it further turns out I really quite like it! It gives me the feeling of “eternalism” where past and present (and future) co-exist. We live in the present and remember today the events of yesterday.
Actually this is mostly true at the beginning of the novel with Eddy. At first he has recollections of the past but then he finds that he’s transported back in time when those memories seemingly trigger an actual return to the past – first in an observational capacity, then where people interact with him and then finally where real physical effects occur (for example, where a burn on his arm in the past leaves him with a scar which he takes back with him to the present).
When Eddy goes back in time he maintains his current age so it’s not a replay; it’s a new ‘addition’ – and people from the past remember him. This is important; his (new) actions in the past affect the future. And for those in the past who encounter him transpose their own thinking with their expectations. People see what they want to see kind of thing, so what starts as mental time travel turns more physical – but with a mental component at the other end.
Time travel is triggered largely by sensations such as sounds, smells or even taste. Eddy checks the theory to get a real trip back to the past. This part reminded me of Somewhere in Time where Richard Collier takes drastic measures to control his environment to facilitate his time travel venture.
Ernie has taken great care to cover many aspects of time travel which often get overlooked. For example, the passage of concurrent time in the present during a trip in the past – only moments pass in the present during a trip in the past. And there’s reference to the potential difficulty of meeting yourself in the past. But what I find spectacular is how Ernie has taken this a step further with a beautiful ‘side-effect’: an implication on the number of times you can go back in time to the same moment.
Note though that this restriction only applies to a single person which means that three people can go back to the same moment in the past, even from different times, and with naturally different viewpoints. This allows for additional views from very different perspectives. For example, Sheila sees Eddy stealing an apple (which is very unlike him) but later in the novel (chronologically) we read Eddy’s view of the event when he goes back in time and we understand why he did such a thing. Or we hear about one of Eddy trips to the past as told by Sheila and what she heard him say. Then we go back to Eddy and have it explained what he said and why.
Ernie keeps adding layer upon layer, and just when I think there’s nothing more to add and the rest of the novel will be spent in analysing the results and wrapping things up, there’s another trip into history and yet more happens!
So when the closing chapters came I was all ears as to how things were going to wrap up – if at all!
First off, there’s a fantastic conclusion in Libby’s adventure, which I suppose would count as the action component of the novel. I especially enjoyed this ending as it involved some intricate workings of time travel (and avoidance of time travel paradoxes).
In point of fact though, the real conclusion is in the Epilogue where there’s a slight look forward, or at least a progression of the present, where Eddy and Sheila’s daughter (Lizzie) provides her view on what has happened and what she think will happen.
I’m not sure how I feel about this latter part, mostly because of Lizzie’s description of Eddy’s behaviour between the novel ending and the epilogue. It’s realistic in the sense that this is the most likely way that things will play out, but it’s not your typical happy ever after.
I suppose that’s how real life is a lot of the time.
Rating * * * * *
One Red Thread by Ernie Wood receives a full 5 stars! I was really impressed that a novel which doesn’t set out to be a time travel or scifi novel is able to circumnavigate so many time travel pitfalls – and it’s all wrapped up beautifully in a literary writing style.
Generally speaking, the plot of the novel is seen in how time travel is dealt with – a subtle shift in focus in the novel from observing the past, changing the past and finally to protecting the present (or future).
The approach in how time travel is utilised in the novel is really original, focussing on what knowledge of the past means in today’s life, and how it affects our way of living and the relationships that we have. One Red Thread gives us plenty of food for thought.
One question still remains open to me, and it goes back to my message in the inside cover – how do I follow my one red thread?
Interview with author: Ernie Wood
Ernie has very kindly agreed to provide us with an author interview at timetravelnexus.com. In this interview Ernie shares his thoughts about the time travel aspects of his novel, as well as his writing process, marketing activities and personal life. Being an author is certainly an interesting – and very busy – life!
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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “One Red Thread” to read and provide an honest review. This is it! Oh yes. I said that already, didn’t I?!
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