My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I understand that the way you stop time is by stopping being ruled by it.
Thank you to Goodreads for the opportunity to read Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time. Rarely do I come across a book as potentially life-changing as this one. How to Stop Time is the story of Tom who has a rare but not, he learns, a unique condition where he ages slowly – like only 1 year to every 15 years of an average human’s life. More than 400 years old and Tom still struggles with how to live his long life. Heartbroken and scarred by the loss of his love during the Elizabethan era, the only thing that keeps him going through his loneliness and the overwhelming memories is the hope of finding his daughter which he hopes to do with the help of the Albatross Society, a network which claims to protect people with this condition in return for a bit of ‘recruitment’.
There is a deep melancholy running through Tom’s tale but even in the darkest moments, the moments when he must remind himself what he’s living far, the narrative shines with rays of hope. Albeit thin ones throughout most of the novel. Tom’s struggle and fear of a world filled with superstition and prejudice forces the reader to examine not only how they would live if they had hundreds of years to live rather than our brief time here but also to ponder how the world and our relationships would differ with the perspective that longevity would bring. Haig talks often about how little the world as far as the human experience goes changes despite the importance we give each event we experience. Is the 21st century really that different from the 20th? Or the 20th from any of the centuries before it?
The novel gives the reader a lot to think about. My favorite parts of How to Stop Time, though, are the forays into the immense chunk of history Tom has lived through – performing at the Globe Theater with Shakespeare, discovering new lands with Captain Cook, meeting Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at a Parisian nightclub.
This is not a book made for light reading. While you could pick it up and quickly read one of its short (sometimes only a single page) passages, it is best read when you can curl up and devote a few hours to it and disappear into Tom’s long history. And to absorb its many, many words of wisdom.
I haven’t really read anything else like How to Stop Time but at times it reminded me of Jon Cohen’s Harry’s Trees. While they aren’t similar in subject matter, they both gave me a sense of hope belied by their melancholy beginnings. Both novels also spoke of our connections through things bigger than our human lives – history, nature, books, love. Also, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to tout Harry’s Trees again.