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The Thief of Time

January 30, 2011 11:28AM
(Lydia tells me there are several novels out there with that title, so, to specify, I am referring to the one by John Boyne.)

First, let me perhaps explain the premise of this book. There are three different streams of narration, all by the same semi-omniscient narrator Matthieu Zela. Matthieu Zela narrates the book in 1999, and the first stream of narration deals with what he experiences in 1999. Now, the thing is that Matthieu was born in 1743 (don't worry, this isn't a spoiler, he tells you so in the first chapter) and hasn't aged since about 1800. The second stream of narration is Matthieu - from the point of view of the old Matthieu - relates how he first came to England around 1760, together with his half-brother Tomas and his first love, Dominique. In the third stream of narration, old Matthieu jumps through different times in his personal history between 1789 and the 1950s and tells us things he did and people he met (the Wall Street Crash for example, Charlie Chaplin, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the French Revolution etc. etc.), always linked, somehow, to "one of the Thomases" (since all the descendants of his brother - he calls them his nephews - have born a variation of that name).

Now, the story is very entertaining, it is quite fast paced and enjoyable and Matthieu is an entertaining narrator. I had a few problems with things that seemed a little anachronistic in the historical parts - for example Matthieu mentions telegraphs in the early 1800s - but that were just minor annoyances. I found it especially nice that Matthieu didn't display any world-weariness or great wisdoms, but simply admitted to enjoying life as long as he had the funds and good health (Having, for example, been married about 19 times, although he isn't quite sure ;-) ). Also, without wanting to spoil anything, the ending was, IMHO, exceedingly well done.

I have just one bigger problem with the book. The story of how Matthieu came to England and met Dominique was built up to be very dramatic, and there were allusions to it having a profound effect on Matthieu's life, but in the end, I found the ending to it a bit weak. There were no loose plot points or anything, it was all resolved, but I found that there was some depths lacking. I can't very well explain it, but I felt a bit disappointed, in a 'that is all?' way. I don't want to go into details here, but I felt that the complicated relationship between Matthieu and Dominique could have been explored in greater detail, and that storyline could have a less abrupt ending, when so much care had been taken to describe the events leading up to it. It is as if in the end, the author ran out of time and/or ideas, and simply chose to end it.

But as I said above, the wrapping up of the rest of the novel after the great denouement was very well done.

So not two full thumbs up, more like one and a half?

Would love to hear other opinions if anyone else has read it!

"I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your lives matter, that your dreams matter." (Barack Obama, 03 June 2020)

The Thief of Time

Mari A.January 30, 2011 11:28AM

Re: The Thief of Time

Karen AFebruary 01, 2011 09:57AM


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