Publication Date: 6th July from Canongate
Source: Review copy
I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.
Tom Hazard 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. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him.
The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.
How To Stop Time is a beautiful work of fiction – you know I read a lot of books (this is actually book 120 for me of 2017) and I don’t think I have ever read an author that just grasps and conveys the vagaries of human nature quite like Matt Haig does – in a way that makes you feel like he is writing just for you. The emotional sense of his writing is enduring and never anything less than compelling no matter the story being told or the premise that starts it.
So there is that – and How To Stop Time falls firmly under page turner, with a dash of passionate prose, a smattering of emotional trauma and a big hit of poignant insightful commentary on the human race. Pretty much what this author does in a nutshell.
Tom is one of those characters that will stay with you long after you have finished reading his story – and what a story it is. He is old, plagued (or blessed maybe that will be subjective) with a condition that means he ages at a much slower rate. Not immortal but feeling that way, he is part of history and an observer of it – we see him over time, at his best and his worst, this is a love story with a touch of mystery and is hugely gripping from the very first page until the tear inducing poignant finale.
I won’t give away much, this is one of those books that everyone will come to in their own way and will take from it different things – but Matt Haig manages to bring history alive on the page here through Tom and what he experiences, it almost feels as if you are living it with him. The characters he and we meet along the way all come with their own peculiarities and sense of self, the story weaves somewhat of a magic spell on the reader, or it did on me at least I was totally immersed into this one all the way.
The thing about stories is that they transport you to other places, make you think about other things. When you have a master storyteller at work it becomes so much less about construction and literary merit and all of those bookish things that as a reviewer I’m supposed to be perhaps commenting on – and just becomes about you, as a reader, in those few short moments of time you are living in that other world. Matt Haig is simply, when you remove the white noise, a master storyteller.
I loved this book. Just that.