Reading Mitch Albom is like eating a box of turkish delight. The contents are prettily packaged; each segment is enticing, sweet, marginally gooey. Swallow the whole thing and you end up feeling the need for something astringent - and possibly feeling nauseous as well.

This novel/fable/procession of platitudes from the author of Tuesdays With Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven is a sequence of mini-chapters, large font, blank pages, space-filling designs. A bite dressed up as a banquet.

We begin with the premise that only God can measure things. So when a young fellow called Dor invents the world's first clock (a bowl with a hole in the base), he's banished to a cave. This happens 6000 years ago, when midwives use rolling pins to help with childbirth.

Millennia later, Dor gets a chance to redeem himself, by teaching a potentially suicidal adolescent and a terminally ill adult the Meaning of Life. Meet Sarah the teenager, agonising over body image and boyfriend; Victor the tycoon, sending his staff searching for the secret of immortality.


Dor faces a steep learning parabola, as he tries to bone up on the 21st century in quick ... time. He wanders through our world, hunched and white-bearded, carrying an hourglass and wailing intermittently. Nobody reports him to the authorities.

God gets a poor press. So does cryogenics. You can see The Time Keeper as wondrously wise or pretentiously puerile. "Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour." Bet you never thought of that before - especially in such unfortunate phrasing as the second sentence.

It's all written in Albom's characteristically staccato style, with swerves into cod-Biblical. The Tower of Babel makes a guest appearance. People say, "it is still unwritten", or "the simple joy of living between sunrises was gone".

Dor's story is singular and intriguing, but cluttered with Thoughts For The Day. There are arresting instants: relativity in a hairdresser's; time sifting from the tops of skyscrapers. There are emetic images: "The stains from Dor's tears gathered together, forming a pool of blue on the rocky floor."

Undemanding, blandly comforting, self-indulgent, ultimately not terribly satisfying. Like that turkish delight.

David Hill is a Taranaki writer.