How to Stop Time…
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 wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.
How to Stop Time is utterly brilliant and entirely unique. I’ve rarely enjoyed a novel this much, and really, when I think about it, this is one of those novels that will become THE novel for me. The one I recommend to others, give as a gift, or say is my all time favourite if someone ever forces me into having to answer such a question. It’s sarcastically funny, fascinating in its historical details, full of philosophical musings about humanity through the ages, and at times, achingly sad.
Tom Hazard is more than 400 years old and he carries that burden heavily. Regularly suffering from ‘memory headaches’, he longs for an ordinary existence. It seems on the surface that to live forever would be a blessing like no other, but seeing this ‘gift’ through Tom’s eyes in turn opens our own and what we see is like nothing we could have ever imagined. There are so many profound moments of insight within the pages of this novel. So many times Tom, with the wisdom of his four hundred years, makes a casual observation that will leave you winded. So many times you will laugh out loud at his honesty:
“I don’t like Martin. The great thing about being in your four hundreds is that you can get the measure of someone pretty quickly. And every era is clogged with Martins, and they are all dickheads.”
As Tom adjusts to being a history teacher, owning a dog for the first time, trying hard to deny a growing attraction to a colleague, and inhabiting a city crowded with memories, we flash back to the different eras Tom has lived in, returning to meaningful moments that have shaped him into the human he is today. And humanity is at the core of this novel. Who we are, who we aspire to be, and how we ultimately choose to live out our time here on earth.
“I can’t right now think of a better purpose in life than to be a teacher. To teach feels like you are a guardian of time itself, protecting the future happiness of the world via the minds that are yet to shape it. It isn’t playing the lute for Shakespeare, or the piano at Ciro’s, but it’s something as good. And goodness has its own kind of harmony.”
This novel will challenge you to think about how you’re filling your own time. You might not be hanging out with Shakespeare or knocking back Bloody Marys with Fitzgerald, but are you living a life that is good?
“And, just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I?”
The historical fiction parts of How To Stop Time are so authentic. There’s grime and stink and rot and all sorts of horrid diseases running rampart. If you were offered an opportunity to go back in time for a year you would definitely pass; how humanity has survived its own filth throughout the ages is almost one of the greatest mysteries of all time. But once again, an attention to detail elevates these sections. You feel as though you’re right there with Tom, busking with a lute or sailing the South seas. Such authenticity is not always easy to capture, but Matt Haig does this effortlessly and he does it over and over, within so many different historical eras.
I fell in love with Tom Hazard over the course of this novel. From the moment he adopted Abraham, a mistreated old dog, he had me spellbound. Each time he stood up in front of his history class, each time he ran into Camille, I yearned for him to have a win. Matt Haig truly is an astounding writer. Entirely in a league of his own.
Matt Haig is the bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive, The Humans and four other award-winning books for adults. His work has been translated into over 30 languages. Follow him on Twitter @matthaig1 or find out more about him over on his website matthaig.com.