Sunday, February 11, 2018

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

This novel has been on my can't wait to read list for months.  I happily tucked into reading as soon as I bought the book, and now, after finishing it, I am not sure if I loved it, or if I just liked it a lot.  

Anticipating a read can exciting, but I think sometimes it can be dangerous--expectations may not be met.  And that is no fault of the author, but rather my fault.  In any case, I did enjoy this book very much, even going in with  high expectations, and not knowing a whole lot about it other than a basic plot outline. 

Tom Hazard is a man over 400 years old.  He looks like a forty year old man, but he carries a very large secret.  He's not immortal, but a man who ages incredibly slowly.  He will, eventually, grow old, lose some of his immunity to illnesses that kill normal people, and die, but not for centuries.  Time is what Tom has, and time is what is also driving him slowly mad. 

For centuries, Tom wandered the world on his own, after a tragic childhood where his mother was punished for Tom's seemingly eternal youth.  Growing normally until thirteen, he slowed way down, looking fourteen, but actually being eighteen.  People began to notice, and gossip turned to suspicion, which created a horrible accusation of witchcraft.  Fleeing his home, Tom ends up in London, where he meets the absolute love of his very long life, Rose. But as Tom finds out, loving someone with a normal life span, and dealing with the obvious issues of very slowly aging and staying in one place, have a price to pay. It is easier, Tom believes, to never love anyone. His grief over Rose is never ending. 

The novel follows Tom as he lands in London in present day, taking a job as a history teacher.  He is part of the Albatross Society, run by Hendrich, a man who is even older than Tom.  He keeps people like Tom safe, by requiring they change lives every eight years, and gives them money and new identities.  He's convinced Tom that his survival is dependent on the society to keep him safe from those who would study Tom and hurt him. The number one rule Tom must live by is to never fall in love with a human being. 

Tom walks the streets of London, remembering his time with Rose, his experience working with Shakespeare, his happiness.  Memories that give him horrible headaches, as they can be too much for Tom to bear.  The only thing keeping him going is the hope that one day he may find his daughter, Marion.  She too has the gift of long life, and the last time Tom saw her, she was a young child in 17th century England.  Hendrich has promised Tom he is searching for Marion, but decades have gone by, with no luck locating Marion.  

I found Tom's memories of his past, and his back story fascinating.  Matt Haig did a wonderful job sending me back into Tom's experiences through the centuries.  I did understand Tom's melancholy, but it got a little frustrating sometimes.  He was a man trapped by his fear.  Fear of love, fear of Hendrich's power; fear of never finding his daughter.  Fear of time.  How do we think of time?  Tom can only think of time in a negative way; it's not until the very end that he finds it in himself to be free.  And that is the biggest message of Tom's tale.  

We're all given a limited amount of time to live, love, and experience life. We're so busy being busy, we pay no attention to the here and now; the moments of happiness and those moments where everything slows down, and we feel like they last forever.  Those are the best moments, and recognizing them, and living in them, is what stops time.  

I did like this book very much.  Tom was a bit of a drag, and I wanted to shake him sometimes, hoping he would stop being so damn afraid. I loved the stories of Tom's life before, and the people and places that made him who he was in modern day London. I feel that there should be another follow up novel, with Marion's story.  I hope there is; I want to know more about her!

Rating:  4/6 for an entertaining novel full of fantastic history; a novel about the power of love, grief, living life without fear, and enjoying every precious moment of time. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

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