This is a melancholy little book about what it means to live almost forever. Think “Interview with a Vampire” without vampires. Tom Hazard, a man of many names and times, is over 400 years old. Tom is not immortal but ages VERY slowly. The explanation for this is some kind of genetic thing that kicks in at puberty, physically aging those with the gene around 10 years for every 100.
The obvious things occur here: watching loved ones age and die, constantly moving and changing identities initially to avoid superstitious village folk and then to escape notice of the government and scientists, the mental fatigue of endlessly living, and bearing witness to the atrocities of repeating histories.
It occurred to me that human beings didn’t live beyond a hundred because they simply weren’t up for it. Psychologically, I mean. You kind of ran out. There wasn’t enough self to keep going. You grew too bored in your own mind. Of the way life repeated itself. How, after awhile, it wasn’t a smile or gesture that you hadn’t seen before. There wasn’t a change in the world order the didn’t echo other changes in the world order. And the news stop being new.
We meet Tom in the present, but the story goes back and forth through time. Adrift after the murder of his mother, Tom finds refuge with a pair of young sisters, one of whom he falls in love with, but realizes that he puts anyone one that he cares about in danger. After a couple hundred years of drifting around the world, he meets Agnes who offers the security of a group for people like Tom, The Albatross Society. Run by a very Lestat like man, Hendrich, Tom soon finds out that the price of this “protection” is not worth paying.
I snatched this up when I saw it on the bestseller shelf at the library. It wasn’t on my radar yet, but it was totally up my alley. It was kind of a mixed bag, in the end. I really liked that the main character adjusted to the times: antiquated word choices and speech patterns lasting through the centuries can become exhausting in books like this. The idea that the persecution of someone like Tom would move from torch and pitchfork to scientific guinea pig was an interesting point. There were many clever insights on how people never learn from their mistakes and if given the perspective of centuries, might learn a little something.
The longer you live, the more you realize that nothing is fixed. Everyone will become a refugee if they live long enough. Everyone would realize their nationality means little in the long run. Everyone would see their worldviews challenged and disproved. Everyone would realize that the thing that defines a human being is being a human.
Sadly, it suffers from a mild case of what I call “Forrest Gump” syndrome. Too many encounters with too many historically famous characters. The historical name dropping became a little tedious, and frankly, didn’t really add anything to the story. The story also took a fairly abrupt turn at the end that in retrospect maybe I should have seen coming, but it took me by surprise. It was a quick read, entertaining, and Haig is an excellent writer. It just didn’t wow me like I thought it would.