Van has finished reading… An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

7 Aug

an ocean of minutes

1980, a deadly pandemic is ravaging the world. When Polly Nader’s partner, Frank falls ill there is one thing she can do to save him: time-travel 12 years into the future to work for TimeRaiser to pay for his treatment. He will be cured and they can meet and continue their life together. But will everything go to plan?


Well, it would be a much shorter book if it did, and not nearly as interesting. Thea Lim’s debut, An Ocean of Minutes is a fascinating and enthralling journey into the personal and the political. Imagine your world changing beyond recognition in a matter of days, your only thoughts focused on how to save the one you love. It’s a drastic choice to travel 12 years into the future – but not so drastic if it keeps him alive. And it’s only 12 years – not so big an age gap. You could be together again. Except the future you didn’t have time to imagine isn’t the future you find yourself in. You’re on the wrong side of the lines now, unaware of the rules, no longer a citizen. And the one thing you can’t do is allow yourself to think he might not have made it.

An Ocean Of Minutes is the second book in a row in my reading that stands on the excellence of its world-building (the first being Laura Laakso’s Fallible Justice). Thea Lim’s image of Polly’s future is chilling and its impact, like The Handmaid’s Tale’s Gilead, is all in just how close a possibility that future feels. It’s in the everyday details that we see this (the cost of a toothbrush, the things people value), and it’s in the exercising of power, the withholding of knowledge that we feel it. Misinformation is as enslaving as the bond the time-travellers sign up to and there’s always someone looking for a way around the system. Thea Lim makes some tidy points about race, refugees and politics – there’s a very nicely-put point about assisting international neighbours for one’s own benefit, and you can’t help but draw similarities about America and the situation regarding Healthcare Insurance. Yet despite all this I never felt preached at. It’s all incidental because the heart of the matter is Polly and whether she’s going to find who she’s looking for.

The writing is clean and succinct, allowing the narrative to do its work. Thea Lim doesn’t fuss over scenery or unnecessary backstory but letting the characters work in the moment to show us their nature and their impetus. I particularly like the effect of the shift in tenses between Polly’s past – often told in a mix of present and future – and her present, told using past tenses. It highlights the shift in expectation beautifully so it’s the future that appears black-and-white, the past bright and vibrant.

For all the bleakness of Thea Lim’s subject matter An Ocean of Minutes is quietly hopeful, though you won’t fail to feel the thread of desperation that weaves through all the TimeRaiser travellers’ stories. And when all’s said and done, there but for the grace of God…

An Ocean of Minutes was published by Quercus on the 20th June 2018 ISBN:9781786487919

You can find Thea on Twitter @thea_lim


My particular thanks to Ana McLaughlin at Quercus for allowing me to review this book.




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