Tom Hazard has a rare affliction: he ages incredibly slowly. Each year for him is more like fifteen for the rest of us. As a result, Tom, born in 1581, is still alive today looking as though he’s in his early forties.
Tom’s under the protection of a shady sort of society, as are others like him. They’re the ones who keep him in fresh identities as the years pass, in return for some “odd jobs” now and then. And as long as Tom keeps a low, lonely profile, never falling in love or making long-lasting connections with others. But Tom is getting tired of the lifestyle. The only thing keeping him going is the memory of his long-dead wife and the hope that his daughter (who has the same affliction he does) might still be alive.
The book follows Tom in modern-day London, and fills in the backstory of his life. There are wonderful historical touches, particularly the scenes set in Shakespeare’s London. The glimpses of the past help to drive home the point that people have always, always been the same–and you get the sense of how annoying it must be to have to watch the same cycles played out over and over again over centuries.
Haig has such a compassionate way with his characters. The message of his novels, particularly this one, always has to do with the importance of being as good a human being as one can possibly be–to love one another, and to recognize one’s place in the grander scheme. In his novel The Humans, that scheme was the universe. Here, the scheme is time. It’s a funny, touching, hopeful, and humane study of love, loss, and history.