22 March 2020
The Little Book and The Lost Prince, both by Selden Edwards
The Little Book is a pleasure despite featuring two elements that usually displease me, namely, time travel and interactions between real and fictional characters. I usually find stories based on time travel unbelievable because attempts to get around its impossibility (or, at least, extreme improbability) are generally either too convoluted or too simplistic. In contrast, the problem with novels that mix history with fiction is not that they are unbelievable but that they are too believable. Experimental psychologists have found that, when a movie with an inaccurate portrayal of a historical event is used as a teaching tool in classrooms alongside an accurate textbook, students are more likely to recall the film’s distorted version of events a week later. Consequently, I prefer to learn about the notion of time and about history from non-fiction books or documentaries.
However, The Little Book is so well crafted that such considerations fly out of the window. Indeed, the time travel makes for a cleverly layered story. The time travel conceit is based more on psychology than technology, so it licenses the interactions among real and fictional characters — particularly meetings between Sigmund Freud and a man from 20th century America who turns up in fin-de-siècle Vienna. There’s also a take on the problem of what happens if you do something to a grandparent while on your travels. This book is both easy and challenging to read — easy in that the writing style is unobtrusive, challenging in that there are times when it’s best to pause to get your head around what’s happening.
Given that Selden Edwards took nearly 35 years to write The Little Book and that the story seemed neatly wrapped up, I had assumed that it was a one-off. So I was very happy when I discovered that there is in fact another book in the series, The Lost Prince. I say “another book” rather than “prequel” or “sequel” because the time travel element makes it hard to classify. Having said that, it has just occurred to me that it’s actually what might be called a “coquel”. Anyway, the second book provides the backstory for a couple of the main characters in the first book and moves on to Jungian psychology and to Jung himself. It’s a relatively straightforward story, in the sense that the aftermath of the First World War comes after the war. Nonetheless, it’s a compelling story with a real humdinger of a plot twist, again one that mixes story and history.
These books work even if you’re not a fan of Freudian or Jungian psychology because the enthusiasm of several characters for talking cures captures the Zeitgeist. It also provides a framework for connections across three generations of a family. In any case, these books are about many other things besides psychology; there’s also architecture, art, music, philosophy, sport, and politics.
The cover blurb of The Lost Prince says that it can be read independently of The Little Book, but I totally disagree. I think that the second book wouldn’t make much sense to anyone who hadn’t read the first one. I have now found out that Selden Edwards is working on a third book in the series. So I recommend getting on with the first two now. Or travel to the future and read the third one and then carry it back to the present so that you can tackle the first two books with a copy of the unpublished third book already on your bookshelf.