Somewhere In Time by Richard Matheson
(Does contain spoilers but I have put a brief warning for you to stop reading part-way through my review if you would like to read the book yourself!)
Originally published as ‘Bid Time Return’ this book intrigued me and I was inspired to look for it when I stumbled upon the movie (from 1980). Matheson has written some great classics such as I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, Beardless Warriors and Hell House. I remember seeing The Incredible Shrinking Man – the 1956 movie – when I was younger and being transfixed with the idea that a radiation cloud could cause a man to gradually shrink to nothing! Bizarre! Great film though and they should do a CGI style modern re-make!
So back to Somewhere In Time…
Richard Collier is a 36-year-old screenwriter who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and has decided, after a coin flip, to spend his last days hanging around the Hotel del Coronado. Most of the novel represents a private journal he is continually updating throughout the story.
He becomes obsessed with the photograph of a famous stage actress, Elise McKenna, who performed at the hotel in the 1890s. Through research, he learns that she had an overprotective manager named William Fawcett Robinson, that she never married and that she seemed to have had a brief affair with a mysterious man while staying at this hotel in 1896. The more Richard learns, the more he becomes convinced that it is his destiny to travel back in time and become that mysterious man.
Through his own research in self hypnosis, he develops a method of time travel that involves using his mind to transport himself into the past. After much struggle, he succeeds. At first, he experiences feelings of disorientation and constantly worries that he’ll be drawn back to the present, but soon the feelings dissipate.
If you feel you want to read this book, then don’t go on any further, as I do reveal what happens next…
He is unsure what to say to Elise when he finally does meet her, but to his surprise she immediately asks, “Is it you?” (She later explains that two psychics told her she would meet a mysterious man at that exact time and place.) Without telling her where (or, rather, when) he comes from, he pursues a relationship with her, while struggling to adapt himself to the conventions of the time. Inexplicably, his daily headaches are gone, and he believes that his memory of having come from the future will ultimately disappear.
But Robinson, who assumes that Richard is simply after Elise’s wealth, hires two men to abduct Richard and leave him in a shed while Elise departs on a train. Richard manages to escape and make his way back to the hotel, where he finds that Elise never left. They go to a hotel room and passionately make love.
In the middle of the night, Richard leaves the room and bumps into Robinson. After a brief physical struggle, Richard quickly runs back into the room, and he casually picks a coin out of his pocket. Realizing too late that it is a 1970s coin, the sight of it pushes him back to the present… (this plot summary is part excerpt from Wiki)
What did I think…
Brilliantly written, I loved the story and it made you really think about Richard’s obsessional drive to get back in time to be with Elise and that he hadn’t actually prepared himself; other than hiring an authentic costume and finding money of the period in an antique shop.
For example, he had to think how to say things within the 1896 period and be careful not to use modern, 1971 words and phrases. At times he had to quickly correct himself. Also just the feeling of being in another time was a challenge for him, be it etiquette, social expectations, the type of food on the hotel menu and details such as the ocean being so much closer to the hotel in 1896 that it was in 1971 and there was no car or traffic noise. And of course he couldn’t explain to Elise who he really was and where he’d come from. But of course, this was time travel – it’s all happened before – only Richard knows what happens but he cannot alter time and inevitably it catches him out…
I’d read this again one day for sure and I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.
Somwhere in Time – Richard Matheson