Sent to me by Canongate Books in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 06/07/17
Publisher: Canongate Books
Format: E-Book, 336pp
Summed up in a word: Metaphysical
I always have time for Matt Haig. Ever since The Humans I have been a huge fan of the Haig. If you have not read The Humans yet then leave here now, go find a copy, read it in one sitting, laugh, cry and warm your heart. I am grateful to Canongate Books for sending me a copy of Haig’s latest (and amazing) release How To Stop Time via Netgalley. Matt Haig is a brilliant author who understands humanity. Each of his novels focuses on a key idea or fear of being human. How To Stop Time is a tale of mortality, of love, family and living in the moment. MH is a connoisseur of reality checks and his writing reaches down to your core beliefs. How To Stop Time will certainly resonates with all of us and MH’s writing is memorable, meaningful, adventurous and full of heart. Full review below.
‘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 to tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom must not 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 Hazard has lived for a long time; through wars, diseases, witch-hunts, the discovery of new worlds and beyond. Tom has a condition called ‘Anageria’ which prolongs the ageing process. Born in the 1500’s Tom, at the age of thirteen, began to age approximately one year to every fifteen years of your everyday human. Both a blessing and a curse, his long life has taken so much from him. He has lived many lives, been plenty of different people and seen the evolution of humanity. Over the centuries he has been searching the globe for his missing daughter Marion, a reminder of his first life and his first love Rose, and he is getting nowhere. Moving back to London, to where it all started, Tom has chosen to become a history teacher to confront the many ghosts of his past.
How To Stop Time is a bold novel that makes the reader consider every aspect of humanity. Matt Haig does this with every novel he writes but I think HTST is the pinnacle of his work on the human condition. MH has a truly unique writing style that burrows deep in your senses. His writing is personal, intuitive, metaphysical, philosophical and complex. This kind of writing challenged me in every way and I certainly feel better off having read the novel. MH observes the world with old eyes. Playing on all the pain and hope, peace and war, old and new that is present in all eras of life. The narrative takes us through the though the centuries, seeing it all though Tom’s eyes.
The main plot is centred around modern day London and Tom’s search for Marion. It also jumps back and forth between key moments in Tom’s past. I was amazed at the depth that MH included in every storyline. Tom was recruited by the Albatross Society in the 1800’s, a secret society of individuals who all live with Anageria, and he gets to choose any life he wants as long as he takes part in recruitment of other ‘albas’. I enjoyed the plot, I thought it was varied and impacted me enough to continue reading consistently all the way through. I also thought the variations in characters and their standpoints on life made for an profound read. Living for what seems like an eternity has significantly different effects on each individual.
Choosing London to be closer to his past. Tom becomes a history teacher as he has lived through it all. I loved this concept and MH does a superb of bringing to life so many key characters of recent centuries. Tom meets a whole cast of key individuals, including Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. MH does also focus on the atrocities of the past, with witch-hunts, war and disease playing a big part in the narrative.
If you have read MH before then you probably get what I am trying to convey. If you haven’t then I would recommend starting with one of his other novels. The Humans is a good place to start. How To Stop Time is no doubt his most intense novel. It is brilliant but I definitely felt psychologically exhausted by the end of the novel. The past sections are heavy and laden with tragedy, adventure and pain. The present day sections are certainly easier to digest, I was glad for the breaks, and they are more contemplative and pensive. Each episode of the story adds a new angle to the life that Tom has led all the way to the dramatic and meaningful finale.
There are a plethora of themes to suit all styles of reader; Tragedy, hope, moving on from the past, love, family, parenthood and identity. I wouldn’t say that How To Stop Time is suitable for young readers. Dark themes like death, violence and suffering are present but not overly abundant. Tom is ravaged by time, suffering from memory headaches (a great concept), the intense pain of so many lives fighting for space in his thoughts. MH uses Tom’s story to ask the reader to consider whether living forever is really the answer or will we just repeat the same mistakes and pitfalls repeatedly. Is it easier just to live in the moment and be content with ordinary life?
Overall I have given How To Stop Time 5/5 stars because Matt Haig never fails to blow my my mind. The Humans was a quirky and brilliant read but How To Stop Time took that sense of humanity to the next level. I am constantly in the need for challenging writing and Matt Haig delivers every time. He is certainly one of the most daring and potent modern writers and I can’t wait to see where he takes his work next.
About Matt Haig
Matt Haig is the number one bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and five highly acclaimed novels for adults, including The Radleys and The Humans. As a writer for children and young adults he has won the Blue Peter Book Award, the Smarties Book Prize and been shortlisted three times for the Carnegie Medal. His work has been translated into over 30 languages.