Skip to main content

The Thief of Time


The Thief of Time

Frenchman Matthieu Zéla may be the only 256-year-old
television executive in London. He has been gifted with
extraordinary long life minus the nuisance of actually aging, but
this supposed blessing comes with a price: Matthieu must bear
witness to the destruction of a long line of nephews and
grand-nephews, who all die young and violent deaths and are named
some variation of Thomas.

THE THIEF OF TIME by John Boyne (author of the recent bestseller
begins in the French revolution during Matthieu's natural lifespan.
After his mother's murder at the hands of his stepfather, Matthieu
leaves France for England, his young stepbrother Thomas --- the
first of the doomed Thomases --- in tow. The boys soon meet
Dominique, another French citizen fleeing Paris. They join forces,
finding work as domestics in an English village, and Dominique
becomes Matthieu's first love. Their story is told intermittently
between Matthieu's adventures over the last 200 years to bring us
up to 1990.

Matthieu is a Zelig figure, planning the first Olympics, partying
with Charlie Chaplin and watching his first career in television
fall victim to McCarthyism. After a dozen or so wives and nearly as
many career changes, Matthieu is a TV executive worried over the
current Thomas, Tommy DuMarqué, a soap opera star with
dangerous habits. One of Tommy's girlfriends is expecting a child;
in Matthieu's experience, as soon as a Thomas has ensured the
continuance of the line, his luck runs out and tragedy

It's beginning to get to Matthieu --- all these young men dead
while he remains perfectly preserved in his early 50s, almost as if
the years his young relatives gave up were transferred to him. He
is curiously blasé about his protracted life, expressing very
little curiosity concerning how or why he's reached his miraculous
age. But he wonders what would happen if, instead of passively
standing by as Tommy tries to destroy himself, he tried to save

Matthieu spares no effort. After a sensational drug overdose
destroys the actor's career, Matthieu gets him a job and arranges
drug treatment, ensuring that Tommy DuMarqué is the first of
his charges to live to see the birth of their child.

As long as the reader does not ask too many questions --- such as
why Matthieu is "the thief of time" when he has no control over his
own years and isn't really stealing anything --- this is an
entertaining foray through the years, told with style and

Reviewed by Colleen Quinn ( on January 23, 2011

The Thief of Time
by John Boyne

  • Publication Date: March 6, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312354800
  • ISBN-13: 9780312354800