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The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley: A fish-out-of-water comedy

The government appoints our protagonist with a time-travelling expat saved from his grim fate in the past

The Ministry Of Time
Author: Kaliane Bradley
ISBN-13: 978-1399726344
Publisher: Sceptre
Guideline Price: £16.99

Adela, the “vice-secretary of God knows what”, is interviewing the narrator for an internal posting marked “Security Clearance Required” within the ministry. It offers a tripled salary and work with refugees of high-interest status. “I’m the vice-secretary of expatriation,” Adela tells the interviewee. “And they are expats from…?” “History,” she answers with a shrug. “We have time-travel.”

The reader is advised, after this casual introduction, not to worry about it too much. How does it work? “All you need to know is that in your near future, the British government developed the means to travel through time.” Simple as that. No need to bore us all with quasi-quantum explanations. Our nameless narrator gets the job as “a bridge”. She is to act as both housemate and monitor for one of the expats dragged forward from a previous century. In her case, it’s First Lieutenant Graham Gore.

Gore was, in our world, second in command on the Erebus, the sister ship to HMS Terror, both of which were lost on an ill-fated voyage to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic in 1845 (as detailed in Michael Palin’s excellent 2019 account, Erebus). They came to a rum end involving ice, lead-tinged cans of food and, probably, cannibalism, but in this realty Gore is whisked away through the time door before the reaper arrives.

A love scene where a man out of time tries to get his head around more modern physical relations is superbly drawn

His presence in our era allows for much fish-out-of-water comedy. The washing machine and vacuum cleaner are “your maids”, the revelation of bacteria causes our man to hold his hands away from his body “like a pair of rabid rats”, and music streaming services are indeed a wonder, after the evolution of recorded music is properly explained first.

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Kaliane Bradley’s very entertaining debut novel finds room for a few genres between its covers. There’s some thrilling sci-fi/speculative action and a warning from future history referring to coming resource wars. But it’s also a romance between Gore and his government-appointed housemate. A love scene where a man out of time tries to get his head around more modern physical relations is superbly drawn.

Several chapters are also devoted to Gore’s Arctic experience and there are the requisite time-travel conundrums as the plot opens up. There’s even a moral of sorts where we’re told we can change our own futures because “forgiveness and hope are miracles”. Something for everyone then, in a book that can be recommended to anyone.