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So Little Time

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

John P. Marquand


Little, Brown and Company - Boston


At a dense 595 pages, it's a summer project.


An elaborate and sophisticated novel that follows an upper middle class family man struggling to find meaning in his life, set within the context of the year leading up to the United States' entrance into WWII.


Jeffery, a WWI veteran, works as a writer exclusively fixing other writer’s plays. His main apprehension throughout the story is whether or not the United States will enter the war, considering that his son is 19 years old. Jeffery has become very pensive and observant of his life, making him uncomfortable and discontent. He moves through the people and situations of each day, and reviews his past, trying to understand where he is and how he got there. He is living with a sense of urgency, not only for his son, who may have to become a soldier, but also for himself.


This story feels very much like real life. The author uses the conflicts that exist in every relationship as a source of reflection upon individual character, modern society, the publishing industry, and, of course, politics and the pending war. Each character enters the story as somewhat shallow, and depth is added bit by bit with the little details from their lives. As the characters and relationships deepen, we understand the main character's life in a fuller context, as he himself tries to understand how he got to where he is. The author offers no resolution to the conflicts, there is no great love, nor any great tragedy, and no happy ending. The books ends as it began, with an ordinary day in late December of 1941.

There are a lot of characters and a lot going on in this story - too much to mention in a respectable review. It’s written in third person, yet always from the perspective of the main character, who is in every scene, giving the feel of a first-person account.

Significant sub theme: Doubt in one's abilities

Jeffery, the main character, is employed as a writer, although his only employment is that of fixing other writer’s plays. He isn’t exactly proud or satisfied with this line of work, but it pays well and keeps him busy. Others tell him he should write his own plays, but he insists he isn’t good enough. At one point in the story, he decides to write a play of his own. He puts his whole future on the outcome: If the play is good, he will leave his wife and stay with his mistress and become a playwright. If the play is no good, he will give up the dream and go back to his old life. The play turns out to be no good. Maybe he really isn’t good enough or maybe he just needs more persistence, the author isn’t saying.

To the author’s credit:

The writing is very good. The way he develops the characters and the relationships is superb, using the everyday details in life that any reader will recognize immediately. Dialogue is smooth with good pace and spacing.

To the author’s discredit:

The book is often tedious, with details upon descriptive details. The story is so drawn out that if you put the book down for too long, you may lose touch with the characters. That was probably the style of the day, when people were more patient with their novels.

Introduction from the author to the reader:

“For the Reader Who Takes His Fiction Seriously” - the title of the introduction.

The novel is “an attempt to depict certain phases of contemporary life”

“If the characters are successful…they should seem like persons of his own acquaintance.”

He gives a tip here that is “shopworn, but still effective” in using a popular song of a certain time period to evoke the spirit of that time.

Best Line:

“If you had any modesty at all – a very bad thing for a writer – you lived in a little hell of your own uncertainty.”

Honorable Mentions:

“Gwen (his 15-year-old daughter) was now making him into a romantic character, a quaint old lovable gaffer who bumbled about, making mistakes because of growing senility.” This is a shout out to parents of teenagers.

“The trouble was that no one with an artistic sense could do anything about a war. Artists and scholars were utterly unnecessary in a war.”

"It was something you did not shout all over town."

Nice Vocabulary: 'superfluous', 'callow', 'becozened'

The last line in the novel: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

It doesn't make sense, the story was certainly not about forgiveness. I think he could have done better. But then again, mundane details are quite important in the story, and that was a quote he remembered from his boyhood.

The title of the book ‘So Little Time’

refers directly to the young men who have their whole lives ahead of them and are going to war - many of them have so little time. The title refers indirectly to each one of us, we have so little time with this one life.

Personal note:

I'd never considered how close in time were the two world wars, that men who fought in WW1 had sons who fought in WW2, that many adults lived through both world wars.

Here he is, the ever suave and debonair Mr. Marquand, in a pamphlet that was included with the book.

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