Book review: How To Stop Time

Matt HaigHow To Stop Time is another hugely inventive novel by Matt Haig with a thoughtful message about identity. Tom Hazard is a history teacher with a difference. He can talk authoritatively about the Great Fire of London, because he was there; about Shakespeare, because he met him; about witchfinders, because he was terrorised by one. Tom Hazard is 439 years old but he looks forty one.

When he was thirteen, the process of ageing slowed down. Tom and his mother are protestant Huguenot refugees in England when their life falls apart; his impossibly youthful looks draw accusations of witchery. We see snapshots of Tom’s past life as he teaches history to bored teenagers in London. And all the time he struggles with the past, so much so that he is unable to live in the present. So he exists, rather than lives, changing his identity to survive and losing sight of who he is.

This is a fascinating study of humankind, our development through history and inability to learn from what went before. Tom encounters threats and suspicions in the 21st century. Is he safe? Is a sinister bio-tech company searching for albas – short for ‘albatross’, ie long-lived – to use for experiments? And is the mysterious Hendrich, founder of The Albatross Society, a mentor or a threat? At the core of the novel is Tom’s love for his wife Rose, a mayfly – ie short-lived – who dies of the plague, and their daughter Marion, an alba. Where is Marion now? Will Tom become reconciled with his past enough to live his life to the full, whether it be a long life or short, and will he ever feel free enough to love again?

A philosophical novel about making the best of what you have now without dwelling on the past, which cannot be changed, or worrying about the future, which cannot be predicted.

Here’s my review of Matt Haig’s The Humans, and read about his other books here.

If you like this, try:-
‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent
‘The Photographer’s Wife’ by Suzanne Joinson
‘The Crows of Beara’ by Julie Christine Johnson

‘How To Stop Time’ by Matt Haig [UK: Canongate] Buy now

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