[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]
What to do, what to do... I liked parts of this novel, but in others I thought the story was sorot of... losing itself?
Time travel to the power of ten here. A lot of actions, reactions and motives stem from the need for the characters to keep thinking in terms of ‘agency’... which, in turn, leads to many questions. For instance: young!you meets old!guy, who tells you ‘we’ll meet later’, and then later!you meets younger!guy, who of course doesn’t remember you because for him it’s the first time, but at this point you know that whatever happens, you’re not going to kill him, because his older self has already met you in the past. Sounds complicated? Not so much, but... yeah, one has to keep track of such occurrences in ‘The Tourist’, for sure.
The plot mainly follows two characters: Spens, a tourism rep in the early 21st century, who knows he’s about to be sent home for breach of contract, even though he doesn’t know yet what the breach will be (but he’s not too worried about that: after all, records inherited from future centuries show he’ll still have a life after that). And ‘you’, a woman in the future, who has spent years in prison due to her many suspicious activities. Both their stories intersect in the person of Riemann Aldis, as ‘you’ has to help him on a mysterious assignment, while Spens in the past finds himself tracking one of his clients, who wasn’t on the bus when the latter came back to the resort.
Among these plots is the ‘War Ourobouros’ thread: a Russian novel about strange people from the future whose aim is actually to conquer and enslave 21st century civilisation. Red herring? Smokescreen? After all, Spens and his fellow travellers looks different enough (taller, for starters) than humans like you and I; their presence is known in 21st century cities; and they -are- weird, with their resorts full of tourists and the knowledge they’re suspected of having about the future, in the shadow of their mysterious Geneva ‘government’. And if only people knew, indeed: that a Near Extinction Event is looming close, and that the futurekind isn’t allowed to mention it.
I really enjoyed the subtle aspects of future society, with all their tiny dystopian hints and secretive 25th century reports—they make it more understandable why all these tourists want to catch a whiff of our own society, not to mention ‘extemps’ choosing to actually stay there. The time-related developments, too, definitely kept me interested, as I tried to catch what tiny event would cause that other event from a previous chapter, or how an encounter we know will happen will actually play out. In terms of causality, of events triggering other events in a non-linear way, I found it worked fairly well.
Ultimately, though, I was disappointed in the overall plot, in that I completely understood how the characters came to end up where they did... but I feel the story was missing a final ‘why’ that would’ve tied everything together. I get what happened to the tourist, to Spens, to Riemann, yet at the same time there’s no sense of a bigger plot. The ‘you’ part was also weird for me; second person present tense narration is really tricky, and let’s be honest, I sometimes had a hard time going through these chapters, precisely because of that narrative device. Finally, character development in general was too light to my liking; on the other hand, this is a book whose strong point is the time travel aspect, so I still managed to enjoy it enough.
Conclusion: I’m giving it 2.5-leaning-towards-3 stars because, let’s be honest, time travel is not easy to write about, and here I thought it was coherent enough, keeping paradox into account and playing well with how different people’s timelines may intersect. I wished it had had more of that ‘agency’ it advocates, though, instead of feeling in the end like it wasn’t really going anywhere.