Jeffrey Archer’s Only Time Will Tell probably isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own. One of my reading buddies at work recommended it to me, and since I’ve dodged the last several books he’s recommended to me, I felt like I needed to pick one up before I was ex-communicated. That and I ran across it while looking for some books to borrow from the library.
Not that it’s that far out of my preferred reading choices. It’s about a young boy, Harry Clifton, as he grows up in England, during the years following the first World War and ending just prior to the second. The boy’s father (or who he thinks is his father) died under mysterious circumstances, only Harry’s mum has led him to believe his father died in the war. Harry’s mother makes sacrifice after sacrifice to ensure Harry has a better life than she did, conspiring with his school teacher, Sunday school teacher, and family friend Old Jack Tar to get Harry into an exclusive boarding school. The boarding school is where Jack makes two best friends, who seemed like pretty decent chaps even if one of them is the son of Harry’s secret father. (Uh, minor spoiler alert.)
So the plot was decent. It wasn’t brilliant, but it did keep me turning pages. Likewise with the voice. I wanted to throttle Archer for changing narrative styles so many times (omniscient third-person; no wait, first-person for a chapter or two; oh no! let’s go back to omniscient third, except not really). I also wasn’t expecting the book to be broken down into five parts that essentially told the same story from a different character’s point of view (Harry’s, his mother’s, the antagonist’s, Old Jack’s, and Harry’s love interest). I would have more enjoyed a more complicated narrative from Harry’s point of view, or if Archer really insisted on sticking with his carousel approach, I think ending with a second section from Harry’s perspective would have lent the story a sense of closure that was lacking.
I also didn’t care for the black-and-white characterizations. Harry was so goody-goody, as were most of his friends. Giles came closest to shades of gray, although for all the right reasons. Mr. Barrington played the villain to the T. Harry’s mom had to be the perfect fictional mom: makes all the sacrifices, works herself to the bone but catches some breaks, never finished school but is somehow whip smart and is a secret business ninja, turns down all suitors she meets while working all hours (when not dropping her son off and picking him up, natch) but somehow finds a man to satisfy needs at just the right point in the story. In fact, Archer’s treatment of the mother-figure was perhaps the most interesting part of the book, and I’m pretty damn sure that was unintentional.
I won’t be picking up any others of the series, but if you’re a fan of Downtown-type caste politics and British family scandals, this might be just the thing for you. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.