In stories time goes back and forth. Things that happened many years apart can be laid together as if they are (and indeed for the reader they are) occurring concurrently. That which is fractured and fragmented is presented as smooth and seamless. A while back Justine Larbalestier blogged about the hardest thing to do when you're writing a novel: transitions or as Kingsley Amis put it, 'getting your characters out of the pub and into a cab'. Attached to this, and a separate issue too (but another transitional issue) is the passage of time. Everything in Undine happened over the course of about a week, and Drift was a similarly intensely packed time period. But in Breathe I needed more time. Time time time. I needed time that seemed to flow naturally and inevitably forward, but time that behaved like time does in real life, sometimes days just pass. The circular journey of return (dinners and dinners and dinners) that marks the passage of days continues and nothing occurs to interrupt this seeming flow, if a novel was a daily account, a diary, it would be pages and pages of 'nothing to report'. When we look back on our lives we probably see it in this way, episodes of note and in between an aggregate memory of undistinguished days: dinners, breakfasts, showers, sleep.
Story time is more like memory time than real time and like memories, stories have gaping holes. Except at the same time anything you have set in motion will continue (in an implied way) until you stop it. So that if you have a character getting fat and suddenly there's a flickering of calendar pages or the winding forward of a clock (like in a movie), the implication is your character will be fatter. Or sadder or sicker or happier or more in love...
Sometimes stories are about time. Like The Time Traveler's Wife. Then story time almost becomes a metafictive element, the fabric of storytelling and timetelling begins to show, like the seams in a patchwork quilt beginning to fray so that instead of seeing the quilt as a whole, you begin to notice its parts.
Coraline is more about time than I thought it was. It's all about time. It's about time passing and time not passing, about the paradox of the endless summer, of repetition and return occurring so frequently that time almost seems to be in a continuous loop, and yet underlying the endlessness of time is the bitter note of time's perpetual end - the end of summer, the end of days, the end, the absolute end.
What does The End mean? And so it continues? And so it ceased to be? And so the story became transformed into something else, something textless, like a caterpillar becoming a lighter than air butterfly? Where is Undine now, now that I'm no longer writing about her? Where is Coraline, now that her story is finished. Perpetual cycle, the journey of return, they exist of course at the beginning again. Caught forever in their stories. Is The End an arrow back to the first line, the first moment of the story? Or does it point somewhere else, somewhere new?