Saturday, January 6, 2018
Book Review: "How to Stop Time" by Matt Haig
Because of a rare medical condition, Tom Hazard has been alive since the 1500s. Born into a wealthy French family, he has traveled all over the world, assumed many different identities, and led a life characterized by adventure, trauma, emotion, and loneliness. Tom has performed with Shakespeare, explored with Captain Cook, shared a cocktail with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and experienced the drastic changes the world has undergone through the centuries.
Even though he has seen incredible things, what Tom wants more than anything is a normal life. He had that once, back in Shakespeare's time, when he met a woman and fell in love, but as his unchanging appearance caught the notice of suspicious and fearful townspeople, he had to leave that life behind. Yet he's never stopped thinking of her and wishing things were different, that he was different.
"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."
Those like Tom are watched over by a group called the Albatross Society, which protects them and ensures they keep their longevity a secret from the general public. The shadowy head of the society, Hendrich, controls Tom and calls in favors to move him to place to place every eight years (since that is about the period of time before people notice he doesn't seem to grow any older). But Hendrich has his own ulterior motives, and his own methods of ensuring Tom and his brethren are kept in check. And the one major rule Hendrich has impressed upon Tom for many years now? Never fall in love.
Tom's latest persona is as a history teacher in London, a place that stirs old memories for him, memories of love and loss. But when he meets a beautiful French teacher who seems to think she's seen him before, he starts to wonder whether the rules to which he's adhered are truly worth it. What good is living for hundreds of years if you have to do so alone, without letting anyone get close to you? But Hendrich will stop at nothing, will use everything and anyone to ensure his charges comply with his rules.
This is a fascinating, beautiful, moving book about love, loss, loneliness, and adventure. How to Stop Time shifts between Tom's current life and the different persona he assumed throughout the years. It's both a rollicking adventure through time and a love story through time, populated with fascinating characters and events.
Matt Haig is a tremendous storyteller, and I found this book so creative, poignant, and enjoyable. It gets a little slow at times, but for the most part it's just such a beautiful story. Obviously, some suspension of disbelief is necessary for a story like this, but at its core, it's a book that explores universal themes. Definitely a winner.
NetGalley and PENGUIN GROUP Viking provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!