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A Leap Through Books and Time

By Megan Cradock, Caroline Dowse, Konstantopoulou and Zalak Shah

Whether it is time travel in a sci-fi book, or a historical story set in ancient Greece, authors can transport readers through time with merely a swift flick of their pen. With 2024 being a leap year, why not spend the extra day reading one – or all – of these time-themed novels?

Death Comes to Marlow by Robert Thorogood

Every mystery – particularly every murder mystery – can be solved by considering means, motive and opportunity. It’s the last of these that causes challenges for amateur detectives Judith, Becks and Suzie.

When Judith receives a phone call from Sir Peter Bailey requesting her attendance at a grand party to celebrate his upcoming wedding to Jenny Page, she accepts out of curiosity. Things begin promisingly – but then it all goes wrong. An almighty crash resounds and, upon investigation, Judith, Becks, Suzie and the other wedding guests find Sir Peter in his locked study, crushed to death. The wedding is most definitely off.

The trio begin investigating, but soon find that seemingly no-one had the opportunity to commit murder. All the guests were within sight when it took place. There was simply no way for anyone to be in two places at the same time.

… or was there? 

In a real page-turner of a book, Robert Thorogood delivers another excellent, cosy murder mystery that makes the reader consider the flexibility of time, and just how and why it might be manipulated.

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

Tom’s Midnight Garden is a children’s book that deals with time uniquely, through the use of a “time slip,” when a young boy travels back to the past to escape his dreary present.

Twelve-year-old Tom Long is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle when his younger brother contracts measles. Forced to live in quarantine, Tom soon becomes restless. One night, he hears the grandfather clock in the hall strike thirteen and, going to investigate, discovers that the bare backyard has become a beautiful garden. Every night, he goes to play in the garden, which is in a different season each time he visits. One night, he meets and befriends a little girl called Hatty and gradually realises that she is living in a different time; she gets a little older every time he sees her. Eventually, the time comes for Tom to go home, but can he leave the garden – and Hatty?

The novel embraces fantasy, environmental concerns and change in an imaginative way that still resonates six decades later. It really is a timeless classic.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Having resonated with many generations already, one can only hope that Woolf’s revolutionary classic will continue to do so for countless more to come.

Refreshing and out of the norm, the novel follows the titular Orlando; a poet who lives for centuries, changing gender and meeting various historical figures. Woolf’s gender-fluid protagonist is enamoured by women, men, nature and, above all, poetry. On this journey through time, Orlando takes the reader by the hand and casually introduces them to brand-new worlds filled with unprecedented ideas.

As with most classics, Orlando remains relevant today, and its timelessness does justice to Woolf’s bravery that lay in touching taboo themes in the twentieth century. It becomes even more impressive when one remembers that the unconventional novel, written in 1928, was created during the peculiar time period between the world wars.

Yet another fascinating fun fact about Orlando is that it holds an autobiographical role within Woolf’s life, as the novel’s protagonist was inspired by Woolf’s lover and friend, Vita Sackville-West. After all, it is not without reason that the book’s most famous label is “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.” 

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (translated by Geoffrey Trousselot)

What would you change if you could travel back in time? Before the Coffee Gets Cold takes us on a beautiful journey of love, friendship, regrets, relationships and what-ifs. An old café in Tokyo serves a special coffee, one that can take you back in time. Of course, there are rules to this time travel – the most important one being that you need to return before the coffee gets cold. We follow the stories of four individuals as they travel through time to get a better understanding of their past, accept their present and be hopeful about the future.

Though a fantastical story, the book is still rooted in human emotions, and it speaks to the very nature of the human desire for second chances, finding closure and letting go. The book is cosy, warm and will tempt you to curl up on the sofa on a rainy Sunday afternoon with a hot cup of coffee and jazz playing in the background, so that you can get lost in the beautiful world of Funiculi Funicula.


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