How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Publication date: 12 July 2017
This review was supposed to go out yesterday, but it looks like the site has somehow glitched! Some people have seen it, others have not, so I thought I’d just pop it up again.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
I recently read and loved Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, a moving memoir about living with depression, but had never read any of his fiction. How to Stop Time immediately caught my eye because it combined two of my favourite things: historical fiction and science fiction. I was hoping it was just as poignant and funny and moving as his memoir, and he once again blew me away with his skills as a writer.
I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.
Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret.
He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him.
The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.
How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.*
Tom is a man who lives a life that many of us would think as a blessing. He is 439 years old. He is not immortal, but he ages incredibly slowly. He is incredibly resistant to disease. He has seen mankind grow and evolve since the Middle Ages, he has worked with Shakespeare, fought in famous battles, drank with the Fitzgeralds, and lived through some of the most fascinating periods of time. Tom suffers from anageria, an extremely rare condition that manifests during puberty and slows the ageing process to a snail’s pace. Haig turns the immortality dream in to a nightmare, dooming Tom to struggle with loneliness and hundreds of years of heartbreak.
The most fascinating thing about this book is the science and symptoms behind the condition of anageria. It is one of the best immortality explanations I’ve read because Haig turns it from a fantastical concept into a scientific possibility. An anageria sufferer don’t stay young forever. You continue to age and experience different symptoms of ageing which honestly make complete sense. I really loved all of this because I could just believe it so much. The different aspects of ageing differently just work in this book.
Tom Hazard is a wonderful character. Like Haig himself, he has a gift for being both incredibly funny and sad. You really feel his sense of loneliness coming through and you sympathise so much with him, regardless of whether you think his long life is a blessing or a curse. He has lived for hundreds of years, but his life is a series of tragedies. The book is written in the first person, so we really get to know what’s going on in the mind of a 439 year old man.
I feel that due to its content and plot, this is a difficult book to end. My only complaint is that the ending just felt so abrupt. It didn’t have the appropriate amount of time dedicated to it and it felt rushed – I feel that if you’ve read this book you know what I mean.
How to Stop Time is a stunning piece of fiction from Matt Haig. It is incredibly moving and sad, yet funny and hopeful. He manages to take a fantastical theme – immortality – and ground it firmly in reality. The characters really come to live and Tom’s story is as poignant as it is entertaining.
Have you read How to Stop Time? What did you think? Is this in your TBR? Let me know!
*copy courtesy of Goodreads