Most helpful positive review
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A surprise around every corner: what an engaging novel I Stopped Time is
on 2 May 2013
Jane Davis is truly a writer's writer. She has taken an entire century - a feat in itself worthy of Ken Follett or Gabriel Garcia Marquez - and covered it with the richness of her characterisation, presenting a family that is beautifully flawed, brimming with affection, and inimitably human.
I Stopped Time concerns the lives of Lottie Pye and her son James Hastings. A young woman in the early-twentieth-century, she narrates her tale from her deathbed over a hundred years later, retrospectively apologising to the son she never knew. Her life as a Brighton photographer who seizes the chance for success and moves to London before the First World War, Lottie constantly feels the call of home, and eventually returns to the life she knew as a child, with her adoptive family and the friends she holds so close, leaving behind her gentleman husband and a son who is still in nappies.
This narrative is interspersed with her son's own story, as he is faced with all of the photographs his mother has ever taken. It is through the work of a woman connected to him only by DNA that he learns about his mother, and about himself, none of which could be accomplished without the help of Jenny Jones - the young woman who persuades the lovable yet curmudgeonly old politician.
When reading the novel, one cannot help suspect that Davis' characters were alive on more than the pages of I Stopped Time. This is something only the writer will know, but one has to admire her ability to transcend authorial intrusion and present the reader with a set of voices - from a young girl in 1910 to an old man in 2009 - so unique and characteristically identifiable that the book, rather than a work of fiction, reads like a diary. Such three-dimensionality is rare, and, in I Stopped Time, it promotes a true sense of kinship with people that may not even have existed.
With major themes surrounding the emancipation of women into work, the love of family, abandonment, the terror of war, the mistakes of love, and the comforts of home and a true purpose, Davis' narrative scope is as ambitious as her time frame. Still, with plot motifs that develop over time, and with a narrative pace that moves like the tide, rushing towards you with new information that you didn't see coming, and then allowing you to process by taking a tranquil pause on the horizon, she is not out of her depth.
Sticking with tradition, Davis motivates her themes through the actions of her characters, and it is through this form that the plot advances understanding of each protagonist in turn. As James discovers more about his mother, he relaxes his severity towards the only young person in his life (Jenny), and as Lottie learns about her wants and needs through her photographs, she too relinquishes her grip on the future she had planned, allowing herself to be taken by the tide of the future her heart longs for.
Intellectually and emotionally engaging, Davis' novel is sure to go on to do great things. The evocative setting of wartime London is set in opposition to the tranquility of seemingly untouchable Brighton, but both places bear their scars beneath the surface. This novel is not merely a romp through the twentieth-century, it is a work of supreme harmony and rhythm. Taking its cue from the sea that calls to Lottie while she is away, it returns again and again to its central themes, eventually sweeping you into the current of understanding and allowing you to see the world from a whole host of perspectives. It is for her determination to succeed that I will remember Lottie Pye, but it is for I Stopped Time that I will remember Jane Davis.