Help me find novels set in the past and present.
July 8, 2011 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Help me find novels set in the past and present.

Lately I've been reading and really enjoying a slew of novels in which there are two intertwining plotlines, one in the past, and one in the present, such as in A.S. Byatt's Possession, Susanna Kearsley's The Winter Sea, and Christi Phillips's The Rossetti Letter and The Devlin Diary.

Help me find more books like this!

I'm not interested in books about time travel per se, although I did spend a few weeks devouring everything Gabaldon, so I probably shouldn't reject that genre completely...
posted by rubyshoes to Writing & Language (43 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Cryptonomicon is one obvious one.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 10:40 AM on July 8, 2011

There's Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, with one plotline set in present/future-so-near-as-to-be-practically-indistinguishable and two set (concurrently) in World War 2.
posted by griphus at 10:40 AM on July 8, 2011

Cloud Atlas. Lives up to the hype.
posted by Madamina at 10:41 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell which contains several intertwining plotlines across several different time periods.
posted by jquinby at 10:42 AM on July 8, 2011

Jeanette Winterson's "Weight" is a retelling of the myth of Atlas and Heracles, intertwined with autobiographical bits that relate to the story.
posted by hermitosis at 10:43 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, it's time travel, but Connie Willis's books featuring time travelling historians from Oxford are great. Blackout and All Clear are the most recent (and should be read in order, as they are really one large book broken in half).
posted by something something at 10:43 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

check out Elizabeth Kostova (The Historian), Michael Gruber (The Book of Air and Shadows), Rebecca Stott (Ghostwalk), Elizabeth Hand (Mortal Love), AS Byatt (Babel Tower)

I have read multiple books by most of these authors, and recommend them all generally. this type of story is one of my absolutely favorites!!!
posted by supermedusa at 10:46 AM on July 8, 2011

It by Stephen King.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:49 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by radioamy at 10:50 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

The Hours
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:52 AM on July 8, 2011

Everything is Illuminated
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:53 AM on July 8, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife, in a very interesting way.
posted by bearwife at 10:54 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just finished Mr. Abernathy and really enjoyed it - there were two timelines that were intertwined quite nicely, though it didn't really all unify until the very end, with what I thought was a very satisfying payoff.

It is a self-pub title, but the quality of the writing is excellent and I'm honestly surprised this thing didn't get picked up by a major publisher.
posted by angry.polymath at 10:54 AM on July 8, 2011

A Place of Execution
posted by celilo at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2011

Nthing Cloud Atlas. Amy Tan's novels also do this really well (the Joy Luck Club is wonderful)

Time Travel is involved, but Jack Finney's Time And Again is a lot of fun - especially since the book's 'present' is now our past (late 60's / early 70's IIRC)
posted by Mchelly at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2011

Oh: The Eight by Katherine Neville. The DaVinci Code wishes it were that engrossing. (The sequel, The Fire, sucks.)
posted by Madamina at 11:03 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Young adult: Red Shift, by Alan Garner
posted by sigmagalator at 11:08 AM on July 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia!
posted by mlle valentine at 11:08 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't love The Hour I First Believed as much as Wally Lamb's other books but, well, there ya go.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 11:08 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Time and Again
posted by DrGirlfriend at 11:10 AM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfeld

Neither are great literary feats, but they were both enjoyable to read.
posted by wsquared at 11:11 AM on July 8, 2011

Underworld by Don Dellilo
posted by LionIndex at 11:19 AM on July 8, 2011

Slaughterhouse 5
posted by Duffington at 11:31 AM on July 8, 2011

People of the Book
posted by Leezie at 11:34 AM on July 8, 2011

Ulverton (multiple echoing plots, ending in the present)
The Chymical Wedding
Lord Byron's Novel (three narrative layers)
The Englishman's Boy (two different nineteenth-century plotlines)
A Wreath upon the Dead
The Salt Roads (three plotlines from different historical periods, ranging from antiquity to the nineteenth century; fantasy/historical novel crossover)
My Dream of You
Promised Lands
Heat and Dust
The Holder of the World (with SF elements)
posted by thomas j wise at 11:49 AM on July 8, 2011

I heartily recommend Cloud of Bone by Bernice Morgan. And it's set in- count'em- three time periods.
posted by beau jackson at 11:55 AM on July 8, 2011

Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale has multiple plot lines strung together, all based around a sort of mythical New York City backdrop.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Connie Willis.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:36 PM on July 8, 2011

Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time was written in 1939, so it's kind of mid-20th-century present interwoven with Tudor past, and it's more or less a young adult novel, but it's textured and evocative and you should read it.
posted by zadcat at 12:54 PM on July 8, 2011

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier.

Though a tad plummy, not a bad description on amazon:

In this haunting tale, Daphne du Maurier takes a fresh approach to time travel. A secret experimental concoction, once imbibed, allows you to return to the fourteenth century. There is only one catch: if you happen to touch anyone while traveling in the past you will be thrust instantaneously to the present.

Magnus Lane, a University of London chemical researcher, asks his friend Richard Young and Young's family to stay at Kilmarth, an ancient house set in the wilds near the Cornish coast. Here, Richard drinks a potion created by Magnus and finds himself at the same spot where he was moments earlier—though it is now the fourteenth century. The effects of the drink wear off after several hours, but it is wildly addictive, and Richard cannot resist traveling back and forth in time. Gradually growing more involved in the lives of the early Cornish manor lords and their ladies, he finds the presence of his wife and stepsons a hindrance to his new-found experience. Richard eventually finds emotional refuge with a beautiful woman of the past trapped in a loveless marriage, but when he attempts to intervene on her behalf the results are brutally terrifying for the present.

Echoing the great fantastic stories of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, The House on the Strand is a masterful yarn of history, romance, horror, and suspense that will grip the reader until the last surprising twist.
posted by likeso at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2011

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
Angel Time by Anne Rice
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (really good!)
posted by LauraJ at 2:39 PM on July 8, 2011

Margaret Atwood uses this technique frequently. Off the top of my head, I know it's used in Orxy and Crake, in The Blind Assassin (which also has a novel-within-the-novel), and in Alias Grace. None of them are time travel, just two parallell story lines, often featuring the same character at different pages, often moving towards each other in some way. I really enjoy the effect, and Margaret Atwood's writing style in general.
posted by duien at 2:47 PM on July 8, 2011

Pretend I said "the same characters at different ages".
posted by duien at 2:48 PM on July 8, 2011

In Anne Fleming's Anomaly, the storyline flips back and forth between the experiences of two sisters growing up in 1970s Toronto (the "present" of the narrative), and their elderly neighbour's memories of being a wartime nurse in the 1910s.

Elizabeth Hay's Alone in the Classroom, which I am reading and enjoying right now, is set in three time periods: the "present" of the narrator, Anne, and two "past" time periods--the 1920s, in which her aunt Connie is a novice schoolteacher, and the 1930s, in which her aunt is a big-city investigative journalist. The book begins when Connie is sent to cover a small town Ontario murder. While investigating the murder, the aunt has an unexpected and unsettling encounter with a colleague from her teaching days back in Saskatchewan.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:02 PM on July 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Sherlockian

It is set in the end of the Victorian era and the present day, and is very loosely based on real events.
posted by Requiax at 4:12 PM on July 8, 2011

Also To The Lighthouse!
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:38 PM on July 8, 2011

Jonathan Evison's West of Here is a pretty sweeping epic set in the Pacific Northwest. Historical fiction novels of that sort tend to be hit or miss for me, but I was a fan.
posted by 1901gunner at 5:47 PM on July 8, 2011

Seconding Winter's Tale by Helprin. Also, "Little, Big" by John Crowley spans many generations. Both books are just beautiful.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 6:37 PM on July 8, 2011

The Wind Up Bird Chronical. Pretty much anything by Kaye Gibbons.
posted by lemoncello at 10:37 PM on July 8, 2011

The Master and Margarita.
posted by languagehat at 7:51 AM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed In The Hand of Dante by Nick Tosches.

"The book interweaves two separate stories, one set in the 14th century in Italy and Sicily and featuring Dante Alighieri, and another set in the autumn of 2001 and featuring a fictionalized version of Nick Tosches as the protagonist. The historical and modern stories alternate as Dante tries to finish writing his magnum opus and goes on a journey for mystical knowledge in Sicily. Meanwhile Tosches, as something of a Dante expert, is called in by black market traders to attest to the authenticity of a manuscript of the Divine Comedy supposedly written by Dante himself."
posted by carlh at 8:46 AM on July 9, 2011

Lipshitz Six
posted by roll truck roll at 10:39 AM on July 10, 2011

I cannot believe I didn't' mention Atonement. It is not a novel you read and forget.
posted by bearwife at 9:19 AM on July 11, 2011

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