There are various ways to create a compelling and intriguing narrative. One of them is to write a story taking place in different time periods, that is to say to pen a book whose chapters are set in various identifiable years, or even centuries, more often than not alternatively. Such books can sometimes be more mysterious and seem more complex than ones that are mainly set during the same time period throughout and that just feature flashbacks and prolepsis within chapters. From the ones that I’ve read and enjoyed to varying degrees, five immediately sprang to mind.
An enthralling and atmospheric book, The Muse by Jessie Burton is a novel that delves into racism and explores the unequal treatment of women. Two time periods are connected by a mysterious painting. In 1967, Odelle Bastien, who moved from Trinidad to London, starts working as a typist at the Skelton Gallery. While at a wedding party, she meets Lawrie, who has a painting to sell. In 1936, Olive Schloss arrives at a house in rural Spain and wonders how to tell her parents that she has been accepted to do a Fine Arts degree.
The many chapters of The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel are set in different years, some of them being 1999, 2005 and 2008. Vincent lost her mother when she was only 13 years of age, so she had to go live with her aunt for a couple of years. Her half-brother also had a complicated life, having spent several years in rehab. Her life changes thanks to an encounter with Jonathan Alkaitis, a New York financier, at the hotel she works in.
Haunted is a perfect word to describe The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell, not only because it is set in a sinister house, but also because the main character, Elsie Bainbridge, is troubled by her past. This intriguing and unnerving book is set in three different time periods. In the present time of narration, Elsie is a patient at St Joseph’s asylum after being accused of a murder. In 1865, she was heading to her late husband’s country estate, The Bridge. Other chapters consist of diary entries from 1635, which were written by one of the first family members to live in The Bridge.
Despite not being one of my favourite books by Jessie Burton, The Confession still ultimately is an interesting and engaging story about motherhood. Set in the 1980s and 2017, its plot revolves around what happened to Rose’s mother, Elise Morceau, who disappeared before she turned one. In order to find answers to her many questions, Rose decides to go look for Constance Holden, the last person to see her.
In A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, which is a great mix of complex family relationships and historical and social topics, readers constantly learn a bit more about the life of Teddy Todd, a bomber pilot during the Second World War. This is a moving non-linear story. Not only are chapters set in different time periods, but there are also many flashbacks within the chapters themselves.
Do you like reading books set in different time periods? Which do you recommend? Tell me in the comments!