- Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis
Cape, 176 pp, £12.99, September 1991, ISBN 0 224 03093 0
A story can be told in almost any order except backwards. Gérard Genette’s impressive catalogue of ‘anachronies’, of all the ways you can destabilise or re-order narrative chronology, does not provide for the complete reversal of narrative flow.
Vol. 13 No. 20 · 24 October 1991
Sorry if I sound like an unreconstructed Fifties Any Answers? respondent, but why oh why is the English-speaking world, including such articulate novelists as Martin Amis, such discriminating critics as Frank Kermode (LRB, 12 September), and such literate periodicals as your own esteemed journal, so cavalier in its treatment of the relatively few German words it feels called upon to use? Not having read the book Kermode was reviewing, I am unable to say whether the assertion that the surname Unverboren means ‘undepraved’ is his own or whether he is quoting Amis. But whoever said it, it is simply wrong.
The word Unverboren does not exist, in German any more than in English. The German word for ‘undepraved’ is unverdorben. Ungeboren means ‘unborn’, unverbogen means ‘unbent’, e.g. ‘straight’ (of character), unverborgen means ‘unconcealed’, unverfroren means ‘impertinent’ or ‘insolent’. The uses of error?
Institut für Anglistik, Aachen, Germany
Vol. 13 No. 22 · 21 November 1991
Mr Peter Marsden (Letters, 24 October) was of course quite right to reproach me for saying Ungeboren meant anything at all, and certainly not ‘undepraved’. Martin Amis gave his character the name Unverdorben, a word I dutifully looked up. Having ascertained that it meant ‘undepraved’, I then converted it to ‘Ungeboren’, for reasons which cannot possibly concern anybody except me and, possibly, my analyst.