Peter Tarnofsky’s novel Timestand has great fun with the story of a boy, Tim Stansfield, who discovers he has time-freezing powers. There’s a nod to superhero genesis stories, with Tim having to decide whether to use his powers for good (rescuing cats from trees, saving people from accidents) or bad (cheating in exams, pulling peoples’ trousers down.) The story also gets taken in more unexpected directions though, with a (seemingly) ancient Greek text, and schisms in the fabric of time that both explain the disappearance of Atlantis and leave Tim with a Dodo to deal with.
Tarnofsky is a gripping storyteller, and the novel hurls us straight into the action as we are plunged into the middle of a bank robbery. After this it is all breathless fun as Tim discovers his time-stopping abilities whilst being tortured by the school bully, and then starts to test out his abilities. There are some lovely, imaginative set-pieces – I really enjoyed the swimming scene where Tim finds he can rearrange water droplets and attempts to recreate Rodin’s The Kiss. Soon he meets the ‘Interstitial’ Henry Mungus – a slippery being who lives in the gaps in time – and things become more dangerous and complicated. He seems to have a rival ‘timestander’ and his best friend, Jack disappears.
If I have a couple of small quibbles about Timestand, I do feel that some of the characters are a bit underdeveloped. Whilst Tim himself convinces as an ordinary boy and Henry Mungus is a compellingly pompous trickster (he’s a pedant about language and tells really bad jokes), Tim’s mother, father, best friend and girlfriend all feel rather slight – they aren’t really described and are lacking the quirks and personality traits that make Henry so vivid. Tarnofsky seems to be more interested in using them to move the plot forward than giving them depth or feelings. I also felt that in the second half Tarnofsky got a little bogged down in overcomplicated exposition about how the schisms work, which I found a bit hard to follow (so I’m suspecting younger readers may too).
However, at the same time, it’s great to see a book for children that’s unafraid to be clever. There’s a discussion about Fermat’s last theory and even a bit of metatextual fun as Tim and his friend Jack try to work out what would happen next if they were in a book. (‘Doesn’t that make our story a bit too dark, you know, for the younger readers?’ Jack asks, with Tim replying: ‘Don’t worry…we’ll keep the jokes coming.’) I admire Tarnofsky’s ability to turn scientific facts into exciting, life-or-death plot-points. Overall, this is a smart, pacey story with lots of action to appeal to young boys – readers will come to the end wondering how the last two hours of their life jumped past so quickly! It will appeal to children looking for adventure/fantasy.
Timestand is available in Kindle format
Find out more about Peter Tarnofsky here