These novelists have questioned how we understand the passing of time.
Events had so stunned the city that it was hard to believe that this was still the same day. The very word ‘afternoon’ seemed not to fit any more. Should it be called the second part of the day? The last part? Perhaps the most treacherous part, harbouring a centuries-old grudge against the day as a whole, or rather its first part, which you might call fore-noon; forget the idea of morning. Its malice had rankled, to erupt suddenly that mid-September.
There was also a sense of gratitude to destiny for at least having preserved the city from other long-forgotten calamities such as the Double Night, a sort of calendrical monster that beggared the imagination, a stretch of time that was unlike anything else and came from no one knew where, from the bowels of the universe perhaps, a union of two nights in one, smothering the day between them as dishonored women once were smothered in the old houses of Gjirokastër.
To begin with, he did not know with any certainty that this was 1984. It must be round about that date, since he was fairly sure that his age was thirty-nine, and he believed that he had been born in 1944 or 1945; but it was never possible nowadays to pin down any date within a year or two.
In that sense, life is less like a journey than it is a game of honeymoon bridge. In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions – we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.
We follow each other into the future, as if now, at the last moment we try to memorize the face a movement we will never want to forget. As if everything in the world is the history of ice.
Ismail Kadare. The Fall of the Stone City. [Darka e Gabuar] (2008) Translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson (2011) New York: Grove Press, 2012. p. 19.
George Orwell. 1984. (Originally published 1949.) New York: The New American Library, 1961. p. 10.
Amor Towles. Rules of Civility (2011). New York: Penguin Books, 2012.
Michael Ondaatje. Coming Through Slaughter. (1976) New York: Vintage International, 1996. p. 87.