A love story lasting some 400 years would seem the province of vampires. But Tom Hazard is no vampire: even though he’s 439 years old (though he looks about 40)—he’s fully human. Tom suffers from anageria, a rare but not unique medical condition.
To have anageria means to age slowly, excruciatingly so. Whatever you do, don’t envy Tom. Life in the long stretch is empty and lonely, devoid of essential human connection. He had fallen in love once, back in the early 1600s when he was still chronologically young and unaware of the rules. But the inevitable happened: Rose died, and Tom has never stopped missing her.
Now he knows. The most important rule of the Albatross Society is “never fall in love,” and he hasn’t—for 400 years. “Albatross” (Albas, for short) is what they call themselves, the others like Tom, who age a single year for every decade or so. The purpose of the Society is protection because the danger Albas face is as timeless as they are: if it no longer comes in the form of witch trials, it can appear in the guise of science.
The novel opens as Tom interviews for a teaching position in present-day London. He wants to teach history of all things—because, he tells Daphne his interviewer, “we live history.” Little does Daphne know the truth of that statement as it applies to Tom. At the school, a lovely French teacher captures his attention. The two are drawn to one another, and against all of Tom’s inner warnings, a second chance for love ensues, this time in the present.
There’s a bit of Forrest Gump about Tom as we jump back and forth with him between centuries. He’s present in history-making eras and has known some of the greats (Shakespeare, Captain Cook, and Fitzgerald).
What makes this novel so intriguing is author Matt Haig’s exploration of living through time. How often we mortals, hurtling toward our end, wish we could stop time. And Tom, too. But that’s because he’s had too much of time, too much history, too much stored memory, too much of everything. It has left him isolated, deadened, and fearful: fearful because over centuries he has seen it all—the arrogance of power, the glory of empire, the hope of human progress—collapse into nothingness. He is a witness, watching history repeat itself.
Haig’s novel is a treasure, a storehouse of wry humor, historical information, and philosophical insights. Haig examines the necessity of human connection and the consolation of music. He ponders the very things that make life meaningful—along with love, one of them turns out to be, of all things, our own gloriously short lifespan. Highly recommended.
Philip J. Adler
P.J. teaches high school AP English. After dusting off the blackboard chalk, he pens essays and reviews (and works on his desk-drawer novel). An avid reader and self-proclaimed nerd, P.J. leans to sci-fi but also enjoys nonfiction—science and technology, history and current events.