How to Stop Time – Matt Haig
Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Tom Hazard is a 41-year-old history teacher, with a secret he’s been brooding over for a very long time. He is actually several centuries old. A rare condition as slowed his aging process exponentially, and in exchange for protection from the secretive Albatross Society, he must help track down other people with the condition. To protect his identity, he is forced to relocate with a new identity every eight years, but the Society has given him only one other rule: don’t fall in love. As he begins crushing on a French teacher, he is threatened by the society, plagued with visions of his late wife, and obsessed with finding his lost daughter, who also has the condition. He struggled to embrace the present and let go of the past, and ultimately, how to confront the massive tides of change.
Matt Haig’s creation isn’t necessarily pleasant or light-hearted, but it it is a pleasant real. The novel is creative; Matt Haig has invented a centuries-spanning world for his protagonist. The book reaches in fantastical directions, but it feels complete.
I want, desperately, to root for Tom. We are given fragmented glimpses of his lengthy past, and I deeply enjoyed these period pieces. Haig has demonstrated a knack for moving swiftly between eras. The backstories of Tom and his wife in early, medieval decades were compelling and lovely.
Unfortunately, these reflections never last for long. The book jumps around chronologically, moving from the present to the 1600s to the 1800s and back again. Often when we were in the present, I yearned for the past, which is, interestingly enough, Tom’s entire problem.
Tom, as a narrator, is a little bit insufferable. He is deeply depressed and brooding. He is tormented by painful memories of his wife’s death and missing child. I understand and sympathize with his grief, but Haig has made it his most primary characteristic. What results is a dreary point of view that becomes a bit of a chore to move through.
Often, Haig tries to wittily blend past and present with name-dropping. In a scene in the 1800s, Tom compares English actor Richard Burbage, saying “he was not an Errol Flynn or a Tyrone Power or a Paul Newman or a Ryan Gosling,” and that he wouldn’t be very successful on Tinder. I wanted to laugh at these connections, but the attempt st cleverness fell a bit flat for me.
Finally, the book is billed as a partly romantic story, and I agree with this, but only if we’re talking about his romance with his dead wife. His blossoming relationship with his modern-day lady doesn’t receive much focus, weight, or movement.
I wanted to love How to Stop Time, and I might’ve if my expectations were different. I expected the story of his agelessness to be a little more fantasy and a little less technical. I expected the romance to be a bit more compelling and a bit less reflective. By the end of the book, the story had a few twists that would’ve suited a thriller better than a piece of speculative fiction.
The story was ultimately a well-intentioned, thought-out piece of fiction. Even though I didn’t fall deeply in love with the story or characters, felt full and satisfied when I closed the book. The historical backdrops were created beautifully, and I enjoyed these windows into the past. The story lays everything out transparently on the table, and asks us to decide when we should let go of the past.