Review: ‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig

71 - How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

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I picked this book up on a whim when the July new releases arrived at the bookshop in their crisp boxes, cushioned with packing peanuts. The title jumped out at me. The cover did not. So, on a whim, I bought it and discovered something curiously wonderful.

This book is deeply human.

It’s a strange way to describe a novel, but as the story progresses, something reaches down into your very soul and picks it apart into pieces before putting it back together again. It makes you look at your past and your present, and draws out the realisation that every part of your history lives simultaneously within you. It makes time itself stop as you feel the weight of your history come to life.

This is the story of Tom Hazard; a man who, by all appearances, is an ordinary man of about forty.

But Tom has a dangerous secret.

He is over four hundred years old. Living with a condition known only as Anageria, Tom is destined to live much longer than the average human.

And while some think of this as a gift, it is also its own curse.

How do you live when everyone you once knew and loved died four hundred years ago?

How do you go on existing in a world that evolves before your very eyes until it’s barely recognisable?

How do you explain why years have passed and you haven’t aged a day?

The key is to move away and change your identity every eight years.

Eight is the limit.

That’s as long as you can live in one place without arousing suspicion.

Spanning across centuries, from the witch trials of Elizabethan England to the age of Donald Trump and the internet, Tom has been alive for a very long time. And he has lived an exceptional life. He worked with Shakespeare as a musician and drank Bloody Marys with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He explored new lands with Captain Cook. He played the piano in Paris during the Roaring Twenties. But through it all, Tom had stopped really living. Numbed by the death of his first love, he goes through life trying desperately not to feel.

The only rule he lives by is that he can’t get close to anyone.

That’s where the pain lies. That’s how damage is done.

Laced with history and philosophy, this is an incredibly moving story that centres upon the human perception of time. It forces you to confront your own values as you journey through the fragments of Tom’s life.

From the late nineteenth century onwards, Tom navigates the world through the laws and values of a secret society of others who are like him; people who live for centuries. In return for certain ‘favours’, Tom is safely replanted into a new life by this society every eight years.

But you can never outrun your past because you are your past. And your present. And your future.

I won’t divulge what Tom learned or where he ended up.

That’s for the reader to find out for themselves.

I will only leave you with a quote that I read over three times before carefully transcribing it into my journal:

“In those moments that burst alive the present lasts for ever, and I know there are many more presents to live. I understand. I understand you can be free. I understand that the way you stop time is by stopping being ruled by it. I am no longer drowning in my past, or fearful of my future. How can I be? The future is you.”  

(‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig, p. 325)

This is a book so utterly human that it leaves you feeling as though it was written just for you. And there aren’t many books that can exert this kind of power.

 ~ Ekaterina

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