How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

Writing: 4 Characters: 4 Plot: 4
Environment / World Building: 5

Tom Hazard is 420 years old and looks 30. He was born in March 1581 and “suffers” from a condition that causes him to age a single year for every fifteen years that elapse. Having these kinds of “powers” during the 1600s does not always attract the right kind of attention and Tom is forced to separate from family and friends on more than one occasion. At some point he discovers he is not alone – there is a “society” of people with the same condition – he joins this society, hoping it will be a kind of family to help ward off the incredible loneliness that comes from consistently outliving his loved ones, but there are certain rules one agrees to when joining which are not always easy to follow.

Tom serves as our narrator in this rich tale exploring the psychological and physiological ramifications of a life lived more slowly than average. The story moves back and forth from the present to various times in his past (each carefully labeled to avoid reader confusion – thank you!). We travel to London in the 1600s, the 1800s, and the present (as well as other places and times) and experience each as a first person memory.

Haig (clearly a well-read man!) brings in philosophy, poetry, music, and an incredibly vibrant sense of history as experienced and synthesized by a man who has literally lived through it all. The quotations (from the likes of Montaigne, Kierkegaard, Dickinson, Dr. Johnson, etc.) are meaningful, concise, and on point. The historical figures (William Shakespeare, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dr. Jonathan Hutchinson, etc.) are vividly presented as live characters as seen through the subjective lens of our narrator.

I enjoyed most of the writing – particularly where Haig focuses on sympathetic characters and areas such as music, history, and philosophy – the prose in these sections just flows beautifully. There are a few parts where the writing becomes a little stiff and blocky, particularly around some of the less sympathetic characters. I was pleased with the ending – without giving anything away I thought it was realistic – not particularly uplifting and certainly not depressing but completely plausible and not contrived. A very enjoyable read infused with both perpetual nostalgia and hope for the future. As an aside, I spent some time looking up some of the historical events, language, and characters and found every one to be completely accurate – nicely done!

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