*I received a free copy of this book, with thanks to the author and Kelly Lacey of Love Books Tours. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: Winner of the prestigious 2020 Page Turner Awards, A Book in Time is a truly enchanting work of magical realism by “a hugely talented storyteller.” This exceptional novel has been described by publishers, agents, and literary judges alike as “visionary”, “ambitious”, “magical”, “unique,” “refreshing”. You will never have read anything like it before. And if you’re a lover of books, or you work in a profession to do with books, you will be hooked from the first sentence – a sentence that is extraordinarily unusual and captivating.
A Book in Time is really a love story about a book’s longing over two centuries for the mother who bore it. Adopted by many different owners – some loving, others unscrupulous – this book longs to be reunited with an elderly author who cherished it as if it was her only child. As the book passes through many hands, it observes not only the way people treat it, but each other, and in all of this, its mother’s love sets the high standard against which everything is lovingly judged.
In a strange demonstration of synchronicity, the author – Mark Stibbe – experienced the culmination of his own search for a mother after completing this novel. Having been orphaned in 1960, and having never met or known his birth mother, Mark met her for the first time at the end of 2021, shortly before she died. So, there is more than a hint of Mark’s own search in the book’s quest for its author.
In the case of A Book in Time, in perhaps a unique way, art has magically imitated life even as life has magically imitated art.
In this book of literary magical realism, we follow a conscious book – the first edition, author copy, of Emily Swanson’s book of poetry The Burning Ones – as it passes from hand to hand and shelf to shelf and offers a unique perspective on historical events and figures.
I was reminded very much of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, in the way that a non-human main character tells the story to the reader directly, expressing human feelings and emotions but viewed through the filter of a non-human perspective. By substituting horse for book, Mark Stibbe is able to weave a more intimate tale though, as Beauty was confined to events that occurred in the streets and stables, whereas the narrator here is carried close to the chest and kept on bedside tables, in pockets and bags, with only the occasional brief few decades spent locked in the darkness of hiding places.
Through the book we see soldiers on the battlefield and at rest; the rise of the feminist and suffragette movements; the beginnings of racial integration; loving couples and domestic abuse; the trade of the book repairer and book destroyers. We meet ordinary people and famous historical figures like the Brontës, Sarah Grand, Ernest Hemingway and Sylvia Beach, like a leatherbound version of Forrest Gump. And, of course, a book can easily outlive whole generations of people, so there is something of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando in the mix here too.
While this is very much a story of history and people’s lives ebbing and flowing through time, this is also the story of an individual book. The book fears damage and destruction to itself; it forms silent bonds with those guardians that treat it well and appreciate its contents; it yearns to spread the songs of love within its pages to those who most need them. But above everything else, the book longs to be reunited with the ‘mother’ who ‘birthed’ it, and loved it like her very own child, cuddling it and crooning to it and holding it dear to her heart. Throughout the whole story, the book compares motherly love with other kinds of love and finds them wanting, and feels like an orphaned child cast adrift in a world that is sometimes kind but often bewildering and intimidating. And it just wants its mother.
The very end of the story dips more into the surreal and spiritual, as the author explores the soul of a book beyond the mere paper and ink physical trappings, and we explore a version of an afterlife which – as a bibliophile – I fervently hope is not fictional at all. Imagine, a kind of ‘rainbow bridge’ but reuniting people and books instead of pets. (Actually, I would like both, please!)
An unusual and deeply compelling book-within-a-book read, this is ideal for anyone who loves books, historical fiction and gentle, realistic (mostly) magical realism.
“Looked at rightly,” he pronounced, “the possession of any old book is a sacred trust, which a conscientious owner or guardian would as soon think of ignoring as a parent would of neglecting his child. The surest way to preserve your books in health is to treat them as you would your own children.”– Mark Stibbe, A Book in Time
Purchase Link: A Book In Time on Amazon
About the author
Dr Mark Stibbe is the winner of the first ever Page Turner Award for Fiction Writing (2020). He has been described recently by the New York Times as “an acclaimed writer.”
Mark has been writing books since he was 16 and has clocked up over 50 titles since then. Mark’s PhD on storytelling was completed in 1982 and published by Cambridge University press.
Mark was a Vicar for 25 years so most of his works have been religious nonfiction released through traditional publishing houses. He was awarded ‘Christianity’s’ book of the year in 2010.
Mark has ghost written over thirty books for clients of his company BookLab. Through this company, Mark and his team have helped hundreds of new authors to get published.
Lately, Mark has mostly migrated from nonfiction to fiction and has been writing novels in the magical realism genre. His novel ‘A Book in Time’ was picked as the overall winner out of hundreds of entries in the prestigious and popular Page Turner Awards.
Mark’s twin sister Claire is also a full-time novelist. In 2021, she won the Page Turner Award one year after Mark won the same prize. This makes Mark and Claire a unique phenomenon in the publishing world – twins who have won the same literary award in consecutive years!
As adopted children, they had a huge advantage; their adoptive father was a star pupil and friend of CS Lewis. He was also at Merton, Oxford where J.R.R. Tolkien was professor of English.
Mark is now a full-time writer who lives in Kent with his wife Cherith and their Black Labrador Bella. In recent years, he has been a judge for literary awards and is a popular speaker.
Don’t forget to check out the other blog stops on the tour for more great reviews and content (see the posters below for details)!