DEEP TIME by Anthony Nanson, Hawthorn Press, Stroud, UK. £18.99 (UK), 699 page trade paperback
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
There are a number of things that will put a reader off choosing a book. Sometimes it is something about the cover, the layout or the prose style that cause avoidance. Those criteria shouldn’t deter anyone from selecting Deep Time. The cover, production and style are all delightful. What is daunting is the sheer size of the book. The quality of the paper used in the production makes it heavy and a tome of nearly 700 pages means that even a fast reader will have to be prepared to invest time in reading it. It is, none-the-less well worth it.
Brendan Merlie arrives in a Central African country to carry out what he hopes will be the survey that will restore his reputation. While it is the dream of many a zoologist to find living fossils, Merlie spent many of his early years trying to prove the existence of creatures such as the Loch Ness monster only to have his ideas discredited. Now, he is being sponsored by a tabloid newspaper to explore an area of rainforest which could yield animals and plants new to science. His starting point is an eco-commune on the edge of a pristine forest. His team are Curtis Wilder, a survivalist who he knew at Cambridge, Salome Boann, the botanist and guide, Vince Peters, the expedition’s photographer and Portia Penhaligan foisted on him a representative of the newspaper.
The political situation is unstable with armed rebels roaming the area so it is with relief that the expedition heads into the forest. With two vehicles and plenty of supplies plus internet connectivity and GPS, the trip begins easily enough but as they press in further, their electronics begin to fail. Brendan begins to notice that animals thought extinct are still living in the deep forest. Portia finds the going tough and tensions between Curtis and Salome rise as he wants to kill animals for meat and she believes that his actions are wrong.
As they penetrate deeper into the forest following Salome’s directions, the climate begins to change and the animals begin to resemble the prehistoric creatures Brendan has always wanted to find. Gradually, he begins to realise that the route Salome is taking them is actually a path backwards through time. It is only when Portia suffers heatstroke that they have to turn back, arriving in the heart of the civil war.
The second expedition, after safe passage has been negotiated for Portia back to London, flees the carnage of the war. Only as they travel deeper into time do the true natures of the protagonists begin to fully reveal themselves and the dynamics of the group changes.
This novel explores evolution and puts flesh on creatures and plants only known from fossil records. Whether or not this is accurate is not important as anyone to reaches the end will discover. More important is the baggage each character carries with them – physical and psychological – and which is gradually shed. Beliefs and attitudes change to keep in step with the need for survival.
This may be a large book but it is well worth the journey.