The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley - review by Ed Cumming

Ed Cumming

Blast from the Past

The Ministry of Time

By

Sceptre 335pp £16.99
 

It is only May, but Kaliane Bradley’s The Ministry of Time might well be the loudest debut of the year. The author, a young British-Cambodian writer and editor, has won prizes for her short stories, including the V S Pritchett Award, and been named one of The Observer’s best new novelists of 2024. The novel has been sold in twenty languages and the BBC has announced an adaptation. It has even attracted an early accusation of plagiarism, from the makers of a Spanish television show of the same name.

The novel is a gleeful romp across genres. It might have been specially bred to leap into holiday-bound tote bags. It is historical fiction, time-travelling romcom, culture-clash comedy of manners, spy novel and sci-fi thriller, finished with a twist of social commentary. The Ministry of Time is a new branch of the British government that recruits ‘expats’ from different eras of history for obscure purposes. Our narrator – who is unnamed, for reasons that become clear – is a young British-Cambodian woman, moved from a dull translating job in the civil service to work as a ‘bridge’ (a minder to expats) on a much-improved salary. She is assigned Graham Gore, a real-life historical figure, one of the polar explorers who perished on HMS Terror. The expats are nicknamed for the year from which they were plucked. So Gore is 1847, a First World War soldier is 1916 and Margaret, a sprightly but plague-afflicted lesbian housemaid who gets many of the funniest lines, is 1665.

Bradley wisely resists spending too much time on the whys and hows of time travel. As the narrator puts it, ‘the moment you start to think about the physics of it, you are in a crock of shit.’ Instead, the novel plunges into the high jinks of men and women

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