Quill and Quire


« Back to
Book Reviews

The Time of Her Life

by David Helwig

David Helwig’s new novel is set in North America and France and depicts the life and loves of one woman, with most of the 20th century as a backdrop. Despite the adventures that befall its heroine, Jean, the book doesn’t aspire to be a page-turner. Although it holds the reader’s attention, suspense is defused by the low-key way events are revealed. The third-person narrative, like Jean herself, is mostly simple and straightforward, but it also has moments of intensity and depth.

Jean’s long life encompasses many incarnations – country girl, nude model, silent-screen star, aristocrat’s wife, mother, mistress, and widow. She escapes poor beginnings in rural Ontario by eloping with a cameraman and eventually finds her way to Hollywood. When she’s cast in the title role of the film Eternal Woman, it becomes clear that this is her role in the novel as well. We never learn Jean’s family name, and although we know she’s beautiful, not a single physical detail is provided – omissions that give her a universal aspect. She’s no abstract, distanced character, however, but comes alive as a woman of spirited playfulness, with stubborn common sense tempered by a sensibility that allows her to see deeply.

As Jean moves from a kind of spunky passivity to eventual self-sufficiency, the stages of her life are linked to the recurring theme of reincarnation, and different levels of reality are explored through dream and memory. The camera is a central metaphor – it can record events as memory does, and it can play them over. The watcher and the watched reflect each other.

Anyone looking for a straightforward adventure or romance will be disappointed by the understated delivery here, and possibly by some of the stranger aspects of the novel. For a reader open to them, there are a number of metaphysical ideas and themes to be followed – but they often seem to merge, change direction, or fade away. This is perhaps not unlike the nature of reality, if it’s examined too closely, but the novel left this reader ultimately unsatisfied.


Reviewer: Helen Hacksel

Publisher: Goose Lane


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 259 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-86492-286-0

Released: May

Issue Date: 2000-6

Categories: Fiction: Novels