Updated: Sep 26
Title: How to Stop Time
Author: Matt Haig
Published: 6th July 2016
Genres: Historical, Romance, Fiction Pages: 352 Start Date: 3rd September 2022
Finish Date: 4th September 2022
"She smiled a soft, troubled smile and I felt the whole world slipping away, and I wanted to slip with it, to go wherever she was going... I had existed whole years without her, but that was all it had been. An existence. A book with no words."
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 behaviour 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.
How to Stop Time tells a love story across the ages--and for the ages--about a man lost in time, the woman who could save him, and the lifetimes it can take to learn how to live. It is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness.
Tom Hazard has a condition which means he ages very slowly indeed and in this story he is well over four centuries old. How to Stop Time alternates chapters from the present with others from his extensive past. When I was reading the past I had to keep reminding myself he was living it at that time and not visiting it from the present. It was intriguing.
I was pleased that the present chapters and the past were equally interesting. Tom's experiences teaching and his relationship with Camille were able to compete with his meeting Shakespeare and Charlie Chaplin. The ending was satisfactory and even optimistic. I closed the book with a smile on my face.
Tom Hazard, just one of the names he has been known by, is 439 years old. He has a rare condition called Anageria, meaning that his body ages at a very slow rate. For every 15 years of his life, his body ages just one, a condition that began during puberty. This means that he now looks like a man in his 40s.
He has lived through many periods in history, met a lot of famous people from the past, and seen plenty of inventions brought to life.
There is a secret organisation set up to protect the people like Tom, called ‘The Albatross Society, run by a man who is very, very old, Hendrich. The Society gives protection to its members by moving them to new areas every eight years and providing them with new identities, plus they also kill anybody who discovers the truth about them.
Hendrich asks for one thing in return, ‘favours’ whenever he requires them. He also gives a word of warning to members of The Albatross Society; ‘Never Fall in Love.
It is 2017 and Tom is now working as a history teacher in a London comprehensive school. With his knowledge of the past, he is very efficient at his job. London is a place where he has lived once before, a place that holds many memories for him. It is a place that in one sense makes him feel at home, whilst in another haunts him. Tom only has one wish in life, to be ordinary. How to Stop Time, is one of those books that you get to the end and then sit back trying to take in just what you have read. This is a powerful novel about life and living. Two very different things.
The book is very touching, and you can’t help but feel for Tom, a man who may have been alive for many years but one who can’t live a normal life. Imagine never being able to get close to anyone, never being able to tell anyone about yourself, and then every eight years you have to become someone else and move far away to start all over again.
The book makes you think about your own life, the actions that you take, and the choices that you make. Life is a learning curve, and even Tom is still learning. The story goes back and forth in time, as you travel with Tom through different periods of his life. You get to witness history through the eyes of the man who has lived it. You also get to see the mistakes that people have made, over and over again. Sometimes the past isn’t so different from the present.
There is honesty in Matt Haig’s words. A rawness that touches you, and whilst giving you a heart-warming feeling, can also send shivers down your spine. The way that he looks at life, and sees not only the good, but the horrors that are created is unique.
This is a book about not taking yourself or anyone else for granted. It’s about accepting and understanding that life is precious, and we are the chosen few to experience it. Your life is a gift. We are all given a certain amount of time to make the most of it. In some cases the years spread out before us while for others their time here is cut short. “Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly…but merely to be LIVED. Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly, imperfectly, magically LIVED.”