Shortly after her husband’s death, Blackburn became fascinated with Doggerland, the stretch of land that once connected Great Britain to Continental Europe but is now subsumed by the North Sea. In Time Song, Blackburn brings us along on her journey to discover what Doggerland left behind.
Julia Blackburn—who lives on the Suffolk coast—is an ideal guide to such territory, her oblique, allusive paragraphs leavening pure pedagogy with memoir and the often startling richness of her own imagination ... Suffice to say, Time Song is not a straightforward book about Doggerland. It is much more interesting than that ... A book like this could easily be dry and academic, or if not, very heavy on the singular first person pronoun. But Time Song is richly peopled, Blackburn’s unflagging curiosity and sharp eye bringing a diverse cast of characters vividly to life. She sifts their stories not just for information, but for meaning; she’s conjuring for us not merely the facts of Doggerland, but the weight of its omission from our history books, our collective memory and our imaginations.
Blackburn has a talent for envisioning bygone worlds ... Time Song jumps between vast epochs of time as Blackburn ponders the history of the English coast and its counterpart in the Netherlands ... Unfortunately, many of the glimpses the reader gets are in the form of strange, somewhat awkward prose poems Blackburn calls 'time songs.' There are 18 of them, and they contain some of the book’s most interesting facts and ideas ... But the format is distracting. The book also bogs down in descriptions of the eccentric collectors Blackburn meets, whose homes and garages overflow with the bones of extinct rhinos and the teeth of bygone shrews. These scenes drag on, with no real forward momentum.
This is an extraordinary book about time, absence and perception ...Through close observation and abstract ruminations, the vanished land that once connected...two countries starts to emerge both as a symbol of unity and a porous boundary between the living and the dead. By trying to see through 'the fact of absence,' the author becomes aware of the continued presence of the past—hoping perhaps that, in this way, her husband will remain close ... as a writer, Ms. Blackburn can go beyond the scientific, switching on the light of imagination to reveal the people of the past ... Through tracing this consciousness back to the people who left their imprint on Doggerland, Ms. Blackburn shows us that, in a time of flux and friction, the gathering of uncertainties can bring greater awareness and a sense of wholeness.