📚 Finished reading: Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov.

This was a fascinating and, at times, darkly hilarious read. The narrator tells the story of his life after meeting Gaustine, a mysterious intermittently-present therapist who develops a new treatment for Alzheimer' disease.

The treatment involves recreating the environment of their past for the period during which the patient felt most at home and secure, the period their body remembers most clearly irrespective of their state of mind.

It’s very successful, leading to the opening of many such clinics with rooms that replicate the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and so on in perfect detail.

As time goes on though it’s not only patients with Alzheimer’s disease that want to attend these clinics, these ‘time shelters’. People of all kinds are drawn to re-experience their favoured period of the past, a place-in-time that they remember - accurately or not - as being a safe and happy time to live. Anything to take a temporal break from the stress and angst of modern-day life.

The movement expands way beyond the medical. Nostalgia increasingly permeates everything. Radio stations from decades past are re-set up. Newspapers from 30 years ago are reprinted, as though the events 3 decades past are today’s news. Politicians of course see the potential for using this nostalgia to the end of their own electoral gains and get in on the act.

Whole towns from past eras are re-built in something close to their original form. Eventually entire countries have referendums on which decade was their golden one, which perceived era they should legally and culturally return to.

Different countries naturally see different periods as their most glorious days, leading to a set of time rather than location based international alliances. As well as, I suppose, time-travel-adjacent experiences when crossing borders between them.

State sponsored re-enactments of historical events become the norm, although down that route some danger lies.

Just the now-triggering word ‘referendum’ makes it hard not to see some satirical intent regarding a referendum my own country held now 8 years ago where some people consider a good amount of voting preference may have originated from a longing for (semi-mythological) times of yore. A time when Britain ruled the waves, when men were men and women stayed at home, that kind of thing. But the book’s treatment of this theme is done in a way that never grates.

The novel won a Booker Prize last year. I’m not surprised. Embedded within the story is a wonderful mix of philosophy, politics, ethics, history, psychology, sociology and more, although it is never hard to read. It has moments of hilarity, moments of darkness, moments of poignancy. Very recommended.

Book cover of Time Shelter