A Time Outside This Time by Amitava Kumar review – #fakenews onslaught

An erudite attempt to skewer our media overload amid the sound and fury of the Trump years – but character and heart are missing

How should writers respond to the sound and fury of the current political moment? When the times frequently produce dramas more lurid and fantastical than anything even the most gifted novelist could dream up, how can literature compete? The solution offered by the Indian-born US journalist, author and professor Amitava Kumar is not to turn away from the daily outrage of the news and #fakenews but to embrace it. By engaging in an “activism of the word”, this erudite, original and ultimately unsatisfying book intends to pit the “radical surprise of real life” against the “lies of the rulers”. In this way, Kumar hopes to “preserve the uncomfortable or disturbing truth against unrelenting and widespread assault”.

We can be sure what this novel is trying to do, because it keeps telling us. It does so via its narrator Satya, an Indian-born US journalist, author and professor who is attending an artists’ retreat on an Italian island that is “said to be where George and Amal Clooney spend their summers”. Satya is working on a novel called Enemies of the People which, he says, is based on an untrue story – in fact, “on the many untrue stories that surround us”. The plot of A Time Outside This Time, such as it is, comprises a collage of news clippings, tweets and anecdotes Satya has collected – as well as abstracts of psychology papers he has read and journalism he has conducted on the subject of truth and lies.

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