“You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do?”
I got this as a birthday present from my girlfriend – she knew I liked books about time travel, and I have to say this novel completely took me by surprise. I’d never heard of Matt Haig before, either – which is a real shame.
It’s not strictly about time travel in the conventional sense, but it’s close to it in subject matter. The novels I tend to read are usually fast-paced, adventure-driven pieces – but this…well…this is something completely different.
A brooding, thoughtful book that muses on some of life’s big questions. It unfolds at its own, dream-like pace and constantly flits between the past and the present. The chapters are very short, which gives it a promiscuous readability – you know the feeling, ‘ohh just one more chapter then I’ll go to bed…they’re only short’.
“Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.”
The story centres around Tom Hazard. He looks 40, but he’s actually over 400 years old. He doesn’t look younger because he uses the kind of moisturisers that David Beckham advertises, he looks younger because he has a rare condition that causes his body to age a lot slower.
We join Tom as he starts work as a history teacher in an East London school. As you can imagine, such a long lifespan has left him with more than a few issues – such as constant headaches, a missing daughter and weird interactions with a secret society who are determined to keep the condition a secret.
““It made me lonely. And when I say lonely, I mean the kind of loneliness that howls through you like a desert wind.”
‘How to stop time’ plays out as a historical drama mostly, almost like a series of memoirs put together by the ever thoughtful Tom. There is a subplot that plays out as a bit of a thriller, but it’s almost like it was added in as an afterthought – just to add a bit of action into things.
(Sure, social media gets a lot of bad press – but it’s a genuinely nice feeling to be able to tweet an author and give them some live feedback on their work)
Having said that, it worked and it fitted in nicely with the story – mixing genres is always a tough balancing act, but I feel that Matt Haig has pulled it off here.
““It was like being stuck in the same song, with a chorus you had once liked but now made you want to your ears off.”
The last novel I read before this was Stephen King’s 11/22/63 – there are parallels between the two. Both talk about the rhythm of time and how, after a while, you can almost predict the future based on what happens in the past.
The difference is King is a much older man than Haig, so I could see why he’d be able to talk with such insight about the passing of time, yet Haig manages to be just as philosophical and measured.
I recommend this – 5/5 for me.