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Authors: John Boyne

The Thief of Time

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The Thief of Time

A
LSO BY
J
OHN
B
OYNE

Crippen

Next of Kin

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Thief
of Time

J
OHN
B
OYNE

Thomas Dunne Books
St. Martin's Griffin
New York

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS
.

An imprint of St. Martin's Press.

THE THIEF OF TIME
. Copyright © 2000 by John Boyne. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book maybe used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

www.thomasdunnebooks.com

www.stmartins.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Boyne, John, 1971-

The thief of time / John Boyne.

p. cm.

ISBN-13: 978-0-312-37804-2

ISBN-10: 0-312-37804-1

1. Longevity—Fiction. I. Title.

PR6102.O96T48 2006

813'.6—dc22

2006051069

First published in Great Britain by Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
an imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd

First St. Martin's Griffin Edition: February 2008

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

For my parents
and in memory of Michael

Acknowledgements

For their advice and encouragement, thanks to: Sean and Helen Boyne, Carol and Rory Lynch, Paul Boyne, Sinead Boyne, Lily and Tessie Canavan; Anne Griffin, Gareth Quill, Gary O'Neill, Katherine Gallagher, John Gorman, Kevin Manning, Michelle Birch, Linda Miller, Noel Murphy and Paula Comerford; Simon Trewin and Neil Taylor.

Chapter 1
A Beginning

I don't die. I just get older and older and older.

To look at me today, you would most likely suggest that I am a man approaching fifty years of age. I stand at precisely six feet and one half inch in height – a perfectly reasonable stance for any man, you will agree. My weight fluctuates between 190 and 220 pounds – again, not unusual, although I am forced to admit that the number tends to swing from the lower to the higher range gradually as the year progresses, for I make it a standard exercise to go on a crash diet every January and do not allow myself to return to any form of gluttonous excess until after the month of August, when the chills set in and I find myself in need of a little gentle padding. I have been fortunate in that my hair – once thick and dark and blessed with a slight wave – has resisted the temptation to fall out altogether and instead has simply thinned slightly across the top and turned a rather attractive shade of grey. My skin is tanned and, while I will admit to a few small lines beneath my eyes, only the harshest of critics would suggest that I have wrinkles. Throughout the years, there have been those – both men and women -who have indicated that I am an attractive man, possessed of a crisp sexual allure.

The suggestion, however, regarding my age – that I am perhaps not quite fifty years old – would flatter me immensely. For it is many years now since I have been able to say in all honesty that I have only seen half a century. This is simply the age, or at least the visual representation of an age, at which I have been stuck for a large proportion of my 256 years of life. I am an old man. I may seem young – relatively speaking – and not physically dissimilar to a large proportion of men born while Truman was in the White House, but I am far from any flush of normal youth. It has long been my belief that looks are the most deceptive of all human traits and I am pleased to stand as proof positive of my own theory.

I was born in Paris in 1743, during the Bourbon dynasty, when Louis XV was on the throne and the city was still relatively peaceful. Obviously, I recall very little of the political times, but I do have some early memories of my parents, Jean and Marie Zéla. We were reasonably well off, despite the fact that France was then immersed in a series of financial crises; the country appeared to be living in the shadow of our frequent small wars which drained the cities of both their natural resources and the men who might help excavate them.

My father died when I was four, but not on a battlefield. He worked as a transcriber for a famous dramatist of the time whose name I could offer, but as he and his works have since been completely forgotten, it would mean nothing to you. I have decided, for the most part, to keep the unknown names out of this memoir in order to prevent myself from having to present a cast list at the start – you can meet an awful lot of people in 256 years, you know. He was murdered on his way home from the theatre late one night by – who knows? A sharp object to the back of the neck threw him to the ground and a blade across the throat saw him off. His killer was never caught; random acts of violence were as common then as they are today and justice as arbitrary. But the dramatist himself had been a kind man and he had allocated my mother a pension, and so for her remaining years we never went hungry.

My mother, Marie, lived until 1758, by which time she had married again to one of the actors in the theatre company where my father had worked, a Philippe DuMarque, who had delusions of grandeur and claimed to have once performed before Pope Benedict XIV in Rome, a claim which on one occasion was mocked by my mother, resulting in a severe beating from her charming husband. The marriage, while unhappy and stained with a recurring theme of violence, did however result in a son, a half-brother for me, named Tomas, which has since become a family name. Indeed, Tomas's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson Tommy lives only a few miles away from me now, in central London, and we meet regularly for dinner, when I invariably ‘loan' him money to pay off the debts he accrues from his extravagant and ambitious lifestyle, not to mention his – to speak plainly -pharmaceutical bills.

This same lad is only twenty-two years old and I very much doubt if he will live to see twenty-three. His nose is practically on fire from the amount of cocaine that he has inserted into it over the past eight years – it's constantly twitching, like the nose of a housewife witch – and his eyes wear a permanently glazed and giddy expression. When we dine together, always at my expense, he is prone to bouts of either nervous energy or severe depression. I've seen him hysterical and catatonic and am unsure which state I prefer. He laughs suddenly, for no apparent reason, and always disappears shortly after I have loaned him some more money when pressing business whisks him away. I would attempt to seek help for him but his lineage has always been troublesome and, as you shall see, every one of his ancestors has met with an unhappy ending so there is little point. I am long past the age when I will try to interfere in any of their lives. They don't appreciate my help anyway. I feel that I shouldn't grow too attached to any of these boys because the Tomases, the Thomases, the Thorns, the Toms and the Tommys invariably die young and there's always another one waiting around the corner to bother me. Indeed, only last week Tommy informed me that he has ‘knocked up', as he so charmingly puts it, his current girlfriend, so I can only assume from experience that his own days are now numbered. It's midsummer now and the child is due around Christmas time; he has provided an heir to the DuMarque line and, like the mate of a black widow spider, has thus outlived his usefulness.

I might add at this point that it was not until around the end of the eighteenth century, at which time I was reaching fifty years old anyway, that I stopped the physical act of ageing. Until then I was a man like any other, although I always took a particular pride in my appearance — atypical of the times – and made sure to keep both my body and mind healthy, something which in itself wasn't to become fashionable for another hundred and fifty years or so. In fact, I seem to recall noticing, some time around 1793 or 1794, that my physical appearance was remaining intact, something which pleased me at the time, not least because to live to that age was practically unheard of in the late eighteenth century. By about 1810, it was frightening to me as by rights I should have looked like a man approaching seventy and by 1843, the hundredth anniversary of my birth, I knew that something unusual was occurring. By then I was learning to live with it. I have never sought medical advice on my condition as my motto has long been ‘why tempt fate?' And I am not one of these long-living fictional characters who prays for death as a release from the captivity of eternal life; not for me the endless whining and wailing of the undead. After all, I am perfectly happy. I lead a constructive existence. I contribute to the world in which I live. And perhaps my life will not be eternal anyway. Just because I am 256 does not necessarily mean that I will survive to 257. Although I suspect I will.

But I am moving ahead of myself now by the best part of two and a half centuries so allow me to return for a moment, if I may, to my stepfather Philippe who outlived my mother only owing to the fact that he beat her one too many times and she collapsed in a heap on the floor one evening with blood emerging from her mouth and her left ear and never rose again. I was fifteen years old at the time and having seen to it that she got a decent burial and Philippe had been tried and executed for his crime, I left Paris with the infant Tomas to seek my fortune.

And it was as a fifteen-year-old boy, travelling from Calais to Dover with my half-brother in tow, that I met Dominique Sauvet, my first true love and quite possibly the girl against whom none of my subsequent nineteen wives or nine hundred lovers could ever quite compare.

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