I was delighted when I found out that Matt Haig was doing an event at this year’s Hay Festival Winter Weekend in November, and I was thrilled to pick up a copy of his latest novel, How to Stop Time, and to have the opportunity to get it signed by the man himself.
How to Stop Time introduces Tom Hazard, who appears to be around 40 years old, but is actually closer to 440 years old. His secret? Tom has a rare condition called anageria, which means that, since puberty, he has aged 1 year for approximately every 15 years that pass.
The first rule is that you don’t fall in love
Whilst this may sound appealing – it’s close to immortality, after all – there are downsides, and Tom has to hold himself apart from others, because coming to love and care for someone who you’re bound to outlive by hundreds of years would not be easy to deal with.
To avoid arousing suspicion, Tom, and those like him, are encouraged to move around regularly, cutting all ties and starting afresh somewhere new, and the novel opens as Tom takes up a post as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. I loved this cover story for Tom – it’s a perfect fit for someone who has not only studied history but has lived it, and he is able to bring it to life for his pupils as few others can. Of course, this allows for some humorous moments, as Tom occasionally slips up in front of his class, talking about an event as though he was actually there!
The narrative moves backwards and forwards in time, and covers both the present day and Tom’s new posting, as well as key events from his past, and I loved gradually getting to know this intriguing character. The reader slowly builds up a picture of Tom, from his childhood in the late sixteenth century where he first learned to be cautious as people began to notice that there was something not quite right about him, and through experiences both good and bad. I absolutely adored Tom as a character, even though I wanted to shake him at times, and he is one that will stay with me for some time.
Another aspect of the novel I particularly enjoyed was the shadowy Albatross Society, which is headed up by the extremely cautious Hendrich. The Society helps Tom and those like him to move around regularly (every eight years is recommended), providing funds, official papers, and anything else that they might need to begin a new life. Hendrich takes a very authoritarian approach to running the society, however – it’s his way or not at all – and there is a price for being looked after, and Hendrich is a man who will make sure that you pay up.
How to Stop Time is a wonderfully life-affirming novel that manages to by turns to be both amusing and sad, and I raced through it to find out what would happen to Tom. I think it’s a novel that different people will take a different message from, but for me it came down to allowing yourself to live, even though that may mean that you occasionally get hurt.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐