How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

I often think about what Hendrich said to me, over a century ago in his New York apartment
“The first rule is that you don’t fall in love,” he said.’

how to stop time 1

Tom Hazard has just moved back to London, his old home, to settle down and become a high school history teacher. And on his first day at school, he meets a captivating French teacher at his school who seems fascinated by him. But Tom 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. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

Unfortunately for Tom, the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: Never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

What I thought

Going into this one I had no clue what to expect, I had heard only great things but as I normally read genre I was a tad weary. The pace is so different in ‘normal’ fiction, I’ve grown used to fairly fast paced books and general fiction is normally fairly slow. But it was something different so I thought I’d give it a go.

I love the promise of this book, the idea of living forever has always captured peoples attention. But this isn’t the finality of vampires or immortality, this is just aging slowly. You’ll still die of old age eventually and you can still be killed, you’re still human. You’ve just got all this time stretching out in front of you. It’s like the first day of the holiday, you know the end will appear but it’s so far away that there is not point thinking of it. The ‘Albatrosses’ simply have a life time that is at least 5 times as long as a normal human’s. Humans are simply ‘mayflies’, blink and you’ll miss them. That’s not to say they’re lives aren’t as important they are simply shorter so can’t learn as much, see as much, do as much. (At this point I’m losing the analogy and mentally thinking of the elves in LotR who turn everything into long discussions about morality and the ‘right way’ of doing something while humans, dwarves, or hobbits with their much shorter lives act much more on their emotions rather than talking everything through in detail first.)
The idea of being forever young is one that sounds great until you get told than you’ll be forced to watch all your friends and family die while you stay the same. And then suddenly the wish becomes less appealing. What do you do with all that time if you have to stay on the outskirts, too worried about watching someone you love die or getting caught to actively engage in humanity and life? Life is for living and although Tom does live his long life he always stays on the outside looking in. And that’s a lonely place to be for a short time let alone many lifetimes. I fear I wouldn’t react well to aging well and even though I would have more time to spend on my TBR more books would be released.

I love that Tom becomes a history teacher, he’s lived through history and turns the curse of long life into teaching teenagers that history isn’t dull and that people are the same. The way the author has Tom hold a classes attention and imparts his passion onto them shows that he clearly had a couple of really good teachers who loved their subject. It the teachers who love their subject that make the biggest impact on kids, if they love it then you can’t help but be interested, and that love is in the way they talk about it, the way they make it sound and the way they want to tell you about it. You get the feeling that even if they weren’t a teacher they would still be talking about their passion. And just as those teachers do to us Tom does to his students, he pulls them and captures the attention of a teen who normally wouldn’t give school a second thought. He makes the boy really think about things.

Aside from the plot the writing is beautiful. The descriptiveness of each scene makes you feel like you’re in the room. You could close your eyes and hear and smell it as well as see the scene in your head. The range of characters and personalities is impressive. It talks about colonisation and imperialism without being patronising or racist or shying away from what happened. The jumps between the times are really well done and might take a couple of chapters to get used to but it helps break up the story while still moving it forward. It captures the imagination with the use of language and imagery while still making the teenagers sound and feel like teenagers. All the personalities are unique while still having an overlap, Tom is never out of character at any time but he’s a different person with different people.
That facet of humanity is something that can be really hard to get right,  because we are different things to different people as well as always being the same person. Everything we do shapes us and everything we tell other people shapes our perception of them. We don’t show the same person to our boss as we do to our friends on a night out. I’m not the same person to my Brownies as I am to my sister or my parents. And depending on when we became friends you might have a different name for me. And for me I think that’s where this book shines. Yes the plot is brilliant but if Tom wasn’t written well or wasn’t believable then it would have fallen through. Tom is able to blend in with everyone, he doesn’t want to get noticed but he’s desperate not to lose any human contact and his long long life hasn’t made him world weary to the point of being passive or fatalistic. He knows everyone is going to die but he still hopes and wants the next generation to do better, why else would he become a teacher?

Why I read it

As I said at the beginning of my review, I had heard good things about it and because it was on all the bestseller lists it was available in Tesco for £4. I figured I was going to read it at some point so investing in the £4 then made more sense then buying it at full price later down the line (of course I could have used the library but that is neither here nor there.) I picked it out to read from the TBR as I knew July was going to be YA heavy with YALC at the end of the month and thought it would be nice to read something completely different before I tried reading as much as I could from the YALC line-up.

Final thought

Had not been for the hype I don’t think I would have picked this up, and although I wouldn’t have known it I think I would have been missing something special. Haig has an amazing understanding of character and how time changes but people stay the same. His story is beautifully descriptive and I like the jumps between the different times showing how Tom always has one foot in the past and one in the present. He’s a man across time but still outside it, unable to let himself feel too much because of the pain that will come of it. Something that is so wonderfully human.

Would I recommend? This is a great ‘general’ fiction book that appeals to all, people should read even if they normally stick to genre like myself.

Challenges

PopSugar: Celebrity book club, meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get round to.

 

Day 2 of NaNo, feeling a bit tired but looking forward to the weekend. As always let me know what you think of my review and if you’ve read it or want to read it let me know!

Rea

P.S See you tomorrow for ‘In Your Light’ by Annalie Grainger

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