Thursday, September 15, 2011

Only time will tell… how many years it will take to get the full story!

Only Time Will Tell
by Jeffrey Archer

Remember decades ago when Jeffrey Archer used to write those fantastic epics? Kane & Able, As the Crow Flies; that’s what I’m talking about! Here’s the good news: His latest novel, Only Time Will Tell harkens back to his glory days. It’s the most entertaining thing he’s written in years, in my humble opinion. Here’s the bad news: What once would have been a juicy epic tale has fallen victim to the publishing industry’s current trend of trilogizing. (New word. I coined it.)

Except, except, this is NOT a trilogy—this is, in fact, the first of the FIVE planned novels that will comprise The Clifton Chronicles. And as entertaining as the book is, and I’ll get back to that in a moment, this is very annoying. Back in the day, you write an epic, it’s 600 or 800 or even 1,000 pages. James Michener did it. James Clavell did it. And, yes, Jeffrey Archer did it. But in the very recent past, some marketing genius realized that you could get readers to pay a lot more for a long book by chopping it into pieces. Maybe pad the text a little, and leave some white space on the pages. What once might have been an 800-page novel is now three 300-page novels. It is the era of the trilogy. And writers don’t even have to worry about writing in story arcs to end each segment. No, just end them wherever—or even better, end on cliff-hanger! And don’t warn readers that they’re only getting a very incomplete portion of the story they signed on to read! And make them wait years to get to the conclusion!

Sorry, was I ranting? It’s true that Mr. Archer (Sir Jeffrey?) and his publishers are guilty of most of my complaints above. For instance, this novel ends very abruptly, with no sort of resolution at all, on a cliff-hanger. So, yes, this new trend is really bugging me. I’ll move on now.

The series is named the Clifton Chronicles after the protagonist, Harry Clifton. This novel opens in 1919, when Harry is a mere gleam in his father’s eye. What follows is roughly the first 20 years of that young man’s life. Despite his very modest circumstances, Harry, it turns out, is a gifted fellow. In addition to being very bright, he’s a truly exceptional singer. Harry’s talents are recognized by several people in a position to nurture them, and so it comes to pass that this dock worker’s son has an opportunity for an education and a future his family could not have imagined.

This first book covers Harry’s school years—the friends and enemies he makes along the way, the triumphs and setbacks, the secrets and lies, and the many, many melodramas. Archer is at his soapy best, and Harry’s story is engaging, eventful, and fast-paced. He’s a likable protagonist, a veritable paragon of virtue, as are his mother, friends, educators, and so forth. You’ll know the baddies when you see them. Archer’s characters are not nuanced. What you see is what you get. But none of this takes away from the fun of the story being told. Only Time Will Tell is not challenging or literary; it’s just good old-fashioned escapist fiction. I had a great time reading it. And as much as I grumble, I will be back for part two. Grrr.


  1. How annoying - prequels, sequels and series!! I remember reading Centennial by James Michener and it was huge, but you read and read and read...then you would look at the end of the book and said 'almost done.' When you finished you went 'WOW - what a great story.' Now you don't know if your at the end, middle or beginning. But, we buy them and read them anyway.

  2. This was a great post. And I have to admit, I am loving the trilogies!! I think they're awesome... but I have been reading trilogies and series at a time when all the books are accessible.

    I'll give you some examples:
    1) The Dark Materials - I believe were my first introduction to trilogies and LOVED the experience. I loved that the stories of the characters did not end with one book, but that there were more to learn and adventure with when reading the sequels.

    2) The Hunger Games - I absolutely LOVED this trilogy and SO happy that I read them when all were out, because I think I would have gone mad not knowing what happened next. :)

    3) Sookie Stackhouse vampire series: I love True Blood and the books are awesome - although there are about 8 or 9 books avaiable - every book reflects a season and True Blood has only had four. So don't want to spoil my own experience with the TV show, so reading along with the season.

    4) Marta Acosta Casa Dracula series - this was a four book series (quatrology?) and LOVED it! I have to say that I read the third book first and think my experience reading the whole series was heavinly influenced by reading it out of order. And I'm happy that I did that, but with other series I need to start with the first book.

    5) Juliet Blackwell's Witchcraft mystery - I picked up the second book from bookcrossing and I was attracted to the fact that it was a series - so I am now a fan of trilogies and series.

    Especially when I fall in love with a character - I just don't want them to disappear.

    PS One series I could have done without - Twilight - that was dreadful and I still want those hours of my life back... ok exagerrating. But am appalled at myself for having read them when I haven't read Harry Potter yet!


  3. Hi Kat,

    Very interesting. As you know, I don't hate all trilogies and series. But I think that, frequently due to pressure from their publishing houses or their own insecurity, authors often drag series out too long. Past the point of freshness, shall we say. I could name names, but I won't. Actually, kudos to Lee Child for his stated intent to end the Reacher series in the near future because he thinks it's time.

    As for trilogies, it's a perfectly legitimate way to tell a story, one that's been around for centuries. I just think that there's also a trend in that direction right now, and that the trend may owe more to the commercial benefits of a trilogy than the needs of the story-telling.