What’s the last book that caused you to stay up too late reading?
You know the feeling.
The one more chapter-don’t care if I’m tired tomorrow-how is this going to end?! kind of feeling.
That feeling takes me back to my childhood, in the best possible way. Of nights staying up late reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, putty in J.K. Rowling’s masterful hands. Though my bedtime isn’t being enforced by my parents now, I still hear a chastising voice in my head when I look at the clock next to my bed (or realize that, ugh, I haven’t been outside all day).
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found it harder and harder to achieve this feeling. Maybe I’m harder to please now, but it’s rare that I’m caught up so completely in a book that I forget my drooping eyes, or sense of responsibility for being functional at work the next day.
While this book wasn’t quite on the “stay up all night reading” level, but it was definitely close. It’s a genre mashup: time travel, sci-fi, historical and dystopian themes, along with a complicated web of dynamic characters. At the core of the novel, there’s deep suspense and that unmistakeable quality that causes otherwise responsible adults to forgo 6-8 hours of sleep.
The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen is something of a time-travel novel, set in post 9/11 Washington, DC. One of the narrators, Zed, is sent from the future to “protect” the impending disastrous events that have created the world’s “Perfect Present.” But, is Zed’s futuristic world really perfect? What will he have to do to protect it? What if he fails, or chooses a different path?
If you’re worried that you’re in for another jumpy, cheesy time-travel narrative, you couldn’t be more wrong. Mullen is much more interested in examining ethical questions than he is in creating a foul-proof time travel mechanism (he even says as much in the author’s notes).
One character that I especially connected with was Sari, an Indonesian immigrant charged with the difficult task of housekeeping for a South Korean diplomat in Washington, DC. I had to know what would happen in her story, to her character. Mullen weaves an interesting backstory for her, combined with a conflicting set of motivating factors that change as the novel progresses.
Speaking of changing as the story goes on… The Revisionists has heaps of twists, turns, and big revelations.
In fact, it makes writing a review (without massive spoilers) pretty difficult! Let me leave it at this and say for the record, this book will keep you guessing until the very last page. And possibly squinting red-eyed at your coffee-pot the next morning.
I didn’t love every aspect of the book, though.
There were a few characters (namely, Leo and Tasha) that I couldn’t quite get. Leo’s backstory is that he is a bit of a whistle-blower, and after going through proper channels of command unsuccessfully, he took a stand for human rights, which cost him his career. But his behavior in the book is so reprehensible, so harmful to the other humans around him, and with so little payoff, that it was hard to imagine him as that same person.
Maybe that was the idea? Mullen is asking to the reader to question each character, to look a little deeper.
Leo’s evolving motivations aren’t the only ones that got a little confusing in this book. It got a little muddled in politics for me, as I was keeping track of groups within political groups, moles, FBI agents, clients of big organizations… I felt like I needed a map at times to keep everything straight.
Luckily, Mullen does an excellent job of moving the main story along nicely with his main characters. Each chapter is told from another character’s perspective.
Slowly, their stories begin to connect in meaningful, satisfying ways.
The themes in this book are hard-hitting and heavy. Each page makes you think. Even as I sit here writing this today, I think I’m still mulling over the questions that Mullen raises about racism, ends justifying means, and government control.
One interesting idea in the book is questioning the level of oversight that our government deserves. There are characters who fall on both ends of the spectrum; from the pessimistic activist, to the characters who believe that the US is the most free place you can live in the modern world (and what are those yuppies on about, anyway?)
This is a dichotomy that I see play out in our political sphere all the time. Mullen is able to take the issue and personalize it with characters of varying beliefs and backgrounds, showing the reader how an environment can shape (and even change) our political ideas.
It’s a smart book. Mullen is a very smart writer, and he grapples with each of the themes while spinning some serious suspense; not easy to do. And the ending: I want to say more, but I should not. Definitely message me if you read it, and we can discuss our theories (I have several).
Read this one if:
- You can dig some political intrigue. Washington, DC almost takes the space of a full-on character in the novel, along with all of the political drama, deal-making and breaking, and pulling people into vans for a “chat” that you’d expect.
- You are able to suspend your disbelief. I wouldn’t want someone to pick this book up expecting a historical account of Washington DC in the post-9/11 era. There’s a mother guiding her daughter from the afterlife, there are elements of time-travel, there are stun-guns, you get the idea. Some of the sci-fi elements seemed even more jarring, set against an easily recognizable DC.
- You’re interested in considering some deep themes in a unique way. And not just one deep theme: Mullen tackles everything from racism to government surveillance to the legitimacy of historical accounts.
What are you reading these days? Is it keeping you up too late?