THE STEADY RUNNING OF THE HOUR
by Justin Go
Published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster.
Reviewed by David Eric Tomlinson.
Justin Go’s The Steady Running Of The Hour is destined to make an appearance on the bestseller lists. It’s an engaging, adventurous, heartfelt love story; a mystery spanning three continents and one hundred years; and its author makes a bold creative choice near the conclusion that is sure to pique the curiosity – but also the wrath – of many readers.
Our story begins in modern-day San Francisco. Tristan, the first-person narrator and recent college graduate, receives a mysterious letter from London informing him that he might be the heir to a vast fortune. After flying to London, where he meets with a secretive executor, Tristan is told that his grandmother Charlotte may have been the illegitimate daughter of the English mountaineer, Ashley Walsingham. Just before attempting to climb Mount Everest, Ashley willed his entire fortune to his lover, Imogen Soames-Anderson. But Ashley died during the ascent, and Imogen never claimed the estate.
If Tristan can find proof that Charlotte was Walsingham’s daughter, he’ll be rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he has only a few months to solve the mystery and is forced to sign a confidentiality agreement stipulating that he won’t tell anyone about the quest and, to make matters worse, the poor kid has to pay for the entire investigation himself.
The rules of the game now established, we flash back to England, in 1914, where a young Ashley Walsingham is training to climb mountains. Returning to his lodge, fresh from a climb, Ashley meets the young Imogen and falls instantly in love. When Imogen asks her suitor why he is so keen to risk his life climbing a piece of rock, Ashley eventually answers: “It isn’t something one knows, but something one feels.”
Thus begins a kind of epistolary mystery reminiscent of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, as our present-day narrator Tristan scours all of Europe for evidence of the doomed love affair: there are lost keys and ancient lockets, passenger manifests and telegrams, ghosts and doppelgängers, half-burnt love letters mailed from the trenches of World War I or the Mount Everest base camp. With each of Tristan’s discoveries, we are transported back into a past that seems more alive than the present and, in sometimes beautiful, elegiac prose, bits and pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
The author is at his best when reimagining history, or when describing the youthful, idealistic folly of Imogen and Ashley. In modern-day Paris, Tristan is helped by a beautiful stranger, Mireille, and his own story begins to mirror that of Ashley and Imogen’s. Tristan is faced with a difficult decision: will he choose the love Mireille is offering, or will he continue pursuing the chance at a colder, more material fortune?
In a brave editorial choice that was entirely in keeping with the novel’s central question, Justin Go, in the end, offers the reader an ambiguous solution to the puzzle of Tristan’s ancestry. But I wanted to solve it, and after finishing the story, I found myself going back, searching for the clues I had so obviously missed along the way. And they were all there, in a way.
The mysteries of love, after all, can never truly be solved. Love is just something one has to feel.
– David Eric Tomlinson has been a member of the Writer’s League since 2013. He was born and raised in Oklahoma, educated in California, and now lives in Texas. You can learn more about him at www.DavidEricTomlinson.com