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Book Review: How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

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“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.

Tom Hazard is over 400 years old, he is an Alpha living in a world of Mayflies. The Alphas are a select, secret group of humans with a condition which makes them age slower than the average Joe. The Mayflies are everyone else: those who live much shorter lives. The Alphas are ruled by a godfather like figure called Hendrich who is intent on finding all the Alphas in the world and protecting them from those outsiders who would do them harm. History has not been kind to those who are different. The central plot surrounds the loneliness Tom feels as an Alpha, he is not allowed to get to close to anyone, every 8 years he must relocate and start again, it takes it’s toll. The story cuts back and forth between the 15th Century and the one big love of Tom’s life, Rose, who was a Mayfly and today, where Tom is a history teacher in London and looking for the daughter he lost all those years ago, who inherited the Alpha gene.

Matt Haig has such a beautiful turn of phrase. A way to keep you reading and keep you interested and emotionally invested. The guy really understands depression.
How to Stop Time features the same elements of human nature as The Humans did, the same insight into our world and our lives that resonate so well, but this time featuring a Benjamin Button type character, who ages slowly rather than backwards, who shares his life experience with the reader. The references to modern life (especially the hatred of self service checkouts, I think we can all relate) and the history all intertwine to make a brilliant read that feels very British, but also very worldly. It’s a winning combination. One of my favourite quotes:

One thing that has remained constant, across four centuries, has been the desire for a British person to fill a silence with talk of the weather.’ – Page 38.

It made me giggle a lot. There are many such instances throughout, mixed in with passages that made me cry like a baby. It’s this that makes Haig so profound and so readable. There is a quote on page 294 which is far to long to post here, you’ll know it when you find it, which perfectly sums up modern life and our existence. Times change, not always for the better. We are so caught up, in today’s world, trying to be the best Instagrammer, the best fidget spinner champion, the thinnest, most ripped body we can possibly be, that we sometimes forget what is most important: The people around us.

From nostalgic romance to thriller, it’s a rollercoaster and I didn’t want it to end. The fact that Tom seems to have met every famous person in history is a bit of a stretch and feels more like a love letter to the best authors of our world, but it fits the story. I couldn’t imagine a world where he HADN’T met Shakespeare. It adds to the realism, from fake news in one chapter, to Gatsby the next, it’ll keep you guessing and have you hooked till the end. I received a proof copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Honest Review: I loved it. 4 Stars.

4/5 ****

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