I’ve often been told to use flashbacks sparingly and have always put it in the pile of rules that can be completely ignored if they get in the way of telling your story. That was until I came across a story peppered with flashbacks.
The first third of the story played out in chronological order, though you did have the feeling that you had come in part way through something. Then suddenly we flashed back to the week before the part we had just read. Then six months, then five weeks, then four months… for the next third of the novel. Then the last part played out in (mostly) chronological order from where we had left off before the flashbacks started.
It was confusing and a bit annoying. I could understand why we couldn’t know what had happened before when we came in, or else the suspense would have been ruined, but after that it was a case of trying to fool us again and again by only providing the information in the order the author wanted us to see it in. This did not help the story as you lost track of where you were in the timeline.
Despite what I’m saying, I did enjoy the book, but I think it would have been a much better story if at the point of the flashback it went right back to the beginning and then played out in chronological order up to the point where the character starts the flashbacks. I also think the story would have benefitted from the first third and last third being cut back so the historical portion had more room to shine.
It has definitely illustrated the pitfalls of playing with time. When you are the author and you know the entire story, the flip flops in the timeline are fine, but when you are a reader (especially one who just reads for short bursts on the bus) it is hard to remember if the chapter was set five days ago or five months.