The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What Did I Do Tomorrow?

This newly-reprinted novel by L P Davies opens with Howell Trowman, the eighteen-year-old heir to a large pharmaceuticals firm, faced with an unpleasant problem. His father's health is bad; his mother wants him to leave his education and help take the strain of running the family business, while his father wants him to go up to Oxford. If Howell does as his father wishes, the old man may kill himself through overwork; if Howell does as his mother wishes, his father - a self-made man, unused to being thwarted and possibly unaware of the seriousness of his condition - may succumb to a different, but equally dangerous, form of strain.

Thinking things over at school, Howell is so concerned with his dilemma that he barely pauses to consider his sense that the events of this particular day - Founder's Day 1969 - have somehow happened before. Literally in the blinking of an eye, so that the arm of the chair he is sitting in changes into the arm of a different chair as he watches, he finds himself removed from the school and alone in an unfamiliar room. He quickly discovers several unsettling facts: five years have passed; he is employed by his father's main business rivals; he seems to have come down in the world; and his school friends and family have turned against him because of some mysterious dereliction he apparently committed during the blank interval. It seems, also, that somebody is out to get him.

Most of Davies' novels combine elements of mystery, horror and science fiction, and much of the effectiveness of What Did I Do Tomorrow? derives from its disinclination to play straight about which genre it actually belongs to. The title resembles that of Philip K Dick's Now Wait for Last Year, and Howell himself spends most of the book convinced that he's been transported forward in time to discover the consequences of his decision in 1969. Even after a friend observes that this would be a pointless exercise - the decision has already been made and its consequences cannot be changed - Howell persists in his belief; and certainly the alternatives suggested by other characters, while slightly more mundane, do not seem much less implausible.

Although Davies' style is undistinguished, his control of his outré plot is absolute, with characteristically urgent narrative drive leading to a clever and satisfying solution.


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