The Threads of Time by Cally Phillips

The Threads of Time is set in rural Scotland in the 1990s on the site of a dig to excavate the remains of an ancient Celtic settlement. Young, idealistic archaeologist, Paul, is employed by grizzled veteran Harry, the very embodiment of cynical, corrupt careerism. Paul’s immediate superior on the dig though, is also the object of his deepest desire, Diane.

The arc from Paul’s infatuation with Diane to the beginning of their burgeoning relationship is traced with excruciating, exquisite detail; the passages of prose take on a mounting, electrical erotic charge as Paul moves forward towards his goal. As fixation develops into love there are moments of union when time, for the couple, seems to stop, and they exist on the edge of the revelatory. The fact that the reader is somehow allowed to tangibly share in those moments speaks of the book’s great descriptive power.

Paul and Diane also share a strand of mysticism which leads back into their separate childhoods; manifested as Paul’s encounter with the living past during a meeting with a mediaeval knight in the form of a jousting re-enactor; and Diane’s courageous act as a little girl of taking the hand of a Red Indian head-dressed war-chief during an event in Harrods and abandoning herself to the primal dance.

But in Paul, there is always something watching and separate, removed:

“She shone like gold and he wanted her to be gold but he had no way of knowing if the real Diane was a treasure trove or a smashed pot.”

With the digging up from the peat earth of an extraordinary find, Paul’s love for Diane is unexpectedly dwarved. He enters into an even deeper psychic bond with the ancient past, his mind pulled back overwhelmingly two-and-a-half-thousand-years. The sensuality which had enabled him to escape the bounds of time and space with Diane for those exquisite but excruciatingly brief periods, has now led Paul to lay hands upon something far more powerful and ancient which may never let him go. He becomes privy first-hand to the mysteries and revelations of the ancient world, realising ever more keenly the bankruptcy of the modern one.

The old world takes over Paul’s dreaming life, but he still has to live in the modern daylight world with Diane and Harry. A battle for supremacy of his soul seems to have been entered into with no guarantee of the outcome.

As the purpose of the past’s call becomes clearer, Paul understands he may have to break with everything and everyone he has ever believed in, if he is to fulfil the requirements of a destiny set in motion long before he was ever born.

“We are all magicians in the face of reality. History is our magic wand.”

Inexorably, and with a structural beauty and emotional power, this book moves towards a denouement which, in the huge context of this story, can only be seen as the “right true end”.

An exceptional novel, with a strange quality of warmth, which juxtaposes beautifully with the meticulous structure and detail of the prose.

The book haunts when it is closed and put aside, in a way that I suspect may be permanent, and while reading there are moments of penetrating revelation where a hushed stillness and centre seems to have been suddenly discovered by the author and transmitted into the spirit of the future reader.

Part love story, and part labyrinthine quest into the terrifying corridors and tunnels of the human subconscious, with all its attendant struggles, losses and agonies; and then this quest itself only leading to an even greater love story, one defiant of time and space, and insistent that its call down through the centuries be heard at last.

Reviewed by John A.A.Logan 

The Threads of Time is available in Kindle format 

(and to celebrate the ‘re-launch’ it’s free on 21st and 22nd June -that’s today and tomorrow) 

Find out more about Cally Phillips