Title : How to Stop Time
Author: Matt Haig
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Published: July 6, 2017
My Rating: 4/5
Soft, beautiful, and poignant. That is what this book is.
“If you saw me, you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong. I am old — old in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old.”
This book is absolutely wonderful. When I first picked it up I thought it would talk about the typical problems faced when an immortal guy falls in love with a mortal girl, kind of like a shiny vampire and a mushy human. I obviously had no idea who Matt Haig was if this is what I expected… and he immediately lets the reader know this is not what’s going to happen in this book.
“So, don’t think of me as a sexy vampire, stuck for ever at peak virility. Though I have to say it can feel like you are stuck for ever when, according to your appearance, only a decade passes between the death of Napoleon and the first man on the moon.”
There are two types of humans in the world, Mayflys, that would be us, and Albas, those who live up to 900 years. Tom Hazard is an Alba born in the 1500’s, and is currently working as a History teacher in London. Because of his peculiar condition, he is part of a society that helps him move around and change identity when needed, but there is one rule every Alba should always follow: Never fall in love.
The story goes back and forth between Tom’s present, where he reflects about life, and his past. These interludes into his past allow us to understand his train of thought and reasons for certain choices by completing the story he tells in the present (I think I made it sound more complicated that what it actually is). Tom has suffered painful losses and has had to stay hidden from witch hunters in the past, and scientists in the present. So logically, in order to survive he finds it’s best to alienate himself from society and limits his life to… simply existing. And this… this is what the book is about. Life, and loneliness and happiness.
“That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days – some years – some decades – are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.”
I never thought an author would be able to reflect my past feelings so accurately. I found myself agreeing with everything the character reflects on and recognizing a lot of my own thoughts in his speech. But I don’t want you to think this book is depressing because it is far from that. I felt nothing but joy when Tom told stories of having worked with Shakespeare, or shared a drink with F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“There is only the present. Just as every object on earth contains similar and interchanging atoms, so every fragment of time contains aspects of every other.
In those monents that burst alive the present lasts for ever, and I know there are many more presents to live. I understand you can be free. I understand that the way you stop time is by stopping being ruled by it. I am no longer drowning in my past, or fearful of my future. How can I be?
The future is you.”
In fact, the only thing that comes to mind when I think of this book is LOVE because amid the fear and loneliness, that’s what there is: love. It is clear that Matt Haig has a deep compassion for humanity- you can feel it in every single word. He captures the essence of what it means to be human in just a few pages.
“Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.”