The Measure of Love

Christopher Wilkins, Author
Christopher Wilkins, Author Carroll & Graf Publishers $21 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7867-0758-4
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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""Without memory, there can be no time,"" observes Robert Garrett, a mathematical prodigy who narrates this slim novel about the slow decline and death of his beloved wife. Robert is only 20, doing postgraduate work at Cambridge in mathematical philosophy, when he falls in love with Elizabeth Hopkins, a ""beautiful, mature"" woman abandoned by her husband. Soon after, when they marry, the 16-year age gap seems insignificant, the difference bridged by the couple's intellectual and sexual compatibility. But their marriage is short-lived, cruelly severed by a rare form of early-onset dementia. British author Wilkins shows Robert as an awkward postadolescent, as a grieving widower and also as an expert watchmaker, descended from a long line of workers in that craft. In an effective if somewhat blatant device, Robert interweaves the couple's tragic story with chapters relating how time has been measured through the ages. In the depths of his emotional chaos, he finds solace in the study of these mechanical methods. He's not wearing a watch when Elizabeth finally dies, and his inability to know the precise second that life left her body inspires him to strive for even more systematic order: ""to make a watch in which natural imperfections... would conspire to create a flawless instrument."" There is poignant irony in pairing a mathematical genius and expert horologist with a woman who loses her sense of time and memory, and Wilkins manipulates his plot with skill. The many heavily drawn connections between love and loss, time and memory, are repetitive, but Wilkins's observations on the slippery, abstract and subjective nature of time compellingly probes a rich, evocative theme. (Apr.)
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