Time to Go Back, by Mabel Esther Allan for Timeslip Tuesday

Time to Go Back, by Mabel Esther Allan (1972, 134 pp, upper middle grade to YA)

Mabel Esther Allan was an incredibly prolific English writer of the mid-twentieth century, who wrote adventure/mystery stories, but with a considerable smattering of other types (this was her 113th book). Time To Go Back is, however, her only true Timeslip story, and draws heavily on her own experiences as a teenager during the bombing of Liverpool and Mersyside in WW II.*

16-year old Sarah, living in London in the 1960s, is doing her best to be a rebellious activist teenager. After a protest turns ugly, and she is arrested, she falls ill. Her lonely time at home convalescing is made more interesting when she discovers the poems of her mother's sister, Larke, who had died in the bombing of Liverpool in WW II.

When Sarah's mother suggests a long visit to her grandmother, still living in Mersyside (across the river from Liverpool), Sarah is surprisingly keen to go--she finds Larke intensely fascinating, and wants to get to know her better. But when Sarah finds the old house, where her mother and Larke lived during the war, her quest to find Larke takes her back into the past. She finds herself in the air-raid shelter in the back garden, listening with the girl who will be her mother to the bombs falling, waiting for her aunt to come home.

For the next few weeks, Sarah travels back and forth between present and past, getting to know Larke and her own mother better than she could have imagined. Her eyes are opened as well to the horror of war, as the bombs keep falling. And there in the past she has her first kiss...

Story-wise, it's pretty interesting. WWII is brought vividly to life, in an uncommon setting. There is danger, adventure, and destruction, and, which is perhaps the strongest part of the book, well-described people trying to just keep on going through it all.

Sarah is anxious and questioning enough about her time travel experiences to satisfy me (I am irked, sometimes, by overly blithe time travel), and her time in the past, and the people she meets, clearly help her grow wiser. Her growing up involves casting off the shallow, false activism of her erstwhile friends, becoming more meditative and appreciative of the past. A tad didactic, and not quite fair to teenagers of the 1960s, but there it is.

However. Allen's writing in this book is not her best. There's an over consciousness to it that I don't much care for. Here's an example, from when Sarah has just found her aunt Larke's poems, before she has gone back in time, and has realized that Larke and her mother were real people in a real war:

"That old war! It was always on television in one way or another, but I always thought of it as just part of history. Suddenly it was much more real, just because one girl, who might have lived to know me, had been able to put her joys and longings and fears into words. Other people must have done it, of course, but she had somehow caught my imagination.

There were around two dozen poems, many of them only two or three short verses. But line after line sprang out of the pages to stab me with a strange, shared pain and knowledge:

Am I to know the shivering futility
Of holding only pictures in my mind...."

Larke is just to good to be true. Not only does she write poetry, but she is deeply in love, in a more tender and true relationship than Sarah has ever dreamed was possible (me too). Sarah knows from the get go that she didn't make it through the war, and never lets her leave her pedestal of perfection (although really it's Mabel's fault).

And then there's the rather twisted romance aspect--in the past, Sarah meets a nice young man, there is some pleasant frisson, and her first kiss. Fine. But I am very disturbed that she meets that man's son and falls in love with him too! It is rather incestuous, although it didn't bother me when I was younger...

So, if you really like timeslips, and want to go somewhere interesting and moderately unusual (the blitz has been done, Liverpool not so much) in your time travel , this is a fine choice. If you are looking for a great book, perhaps not. Unless you are a young reader, perhaps a writer of poetry, perhaps more likely than the cynical older reader (me) to find Sarah's hero worship of Larke believable.

Time to Go Back ended up in a lot of American Libraries, so it might still be kicking around. Mine is the last in Rhode Island to still have its copy. I just checked it's used availability, and there are a number of 1 cent ex-library copies around.

*Since I last read this, years ago, I married someone who lived down the street from the places in the book, and was taken to Mersyside and given the grand tour. It added interest!

Sorry that I have not been as diligent as might have been with my Timeslip Tuesday posts-- I do, however, have a queue of five in the works, so it should be more regular in the next few weeks, d.v.


  1. Um, slight quibble: Merseyside describes an area that includes Liverpool, its suburbs, and the towns on the other side of the river (Mersey; note sp.), including Birkenhead, Wallasey, and New Brighton.
    The Liverpool side was part of Lancashire, and the Wallasey side, part of Cheshire; Merseyside became a county in 1974.

  2. This is one of my all time favorites, although it is not Allan's only timeslip. There are some similarities to Ruth Arthur's The Autumn People - she is another author I love and recommend, although her books are very hard to find.

  3. I've read a bit of Ruth Arthur, but not that one--I'll look out for it! Thanks!


Free Blog Counter

Button styles