Wednesday, July 19, 2017
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Before I get into a description of How to Stop Time, I need to warn the Americans that it has not yet been released in the U.S. and it looks like you've got a good, long wait. But, the cover above is so much better than the American cover (if Amazon's image is correct) that you might want to do what I did if you appreciate the cover above. I ordered from Book Depository because I absolutely could not wait for the American release. Had I known about the ugly American cover, that would have just solidified my decision. Why are British covers always so much better looking?
Tom Hazard was born in France in the year 1581 and he's still alive, thanks to a condition known as "anageria", which hits at puberty. Those who have anageria age slowly. So, while Tom has been around for over 450 years - long enough to have hung out with Shakespeare - he appears to be closer to his late thirties. Tom discovered early on that he had to avoid settling down for any length of time and try not to develop any meaningful relationships because his slow aging has always been a danger to him and those around him. He's often depressed and anxious, but he made a promise to stay alive and he has kept his promise.
At the end of the 19th century, a man named Hendrich changed his life. Hendrich is several centuries older than Tom and has created an organization for the protection of their kind: "albatrosses", he calls them. "Mayflies" are people who age normally and they can be dangerous to albatrosses. In the early days, it was superstition and fear that caused the danger. In modern life, it's concern that they'll be kidnapped and become victims of experimentation. Since Tom joined Hendrich's society, he has been obligated to move every 8 years, occasionally bringing new people into the society and killing those who know too much.
Now, Tom has decided to return to London, where he spent his younger years. He finds a job teaching history and naturally he's able to bring history to life in a unique way. But, no matter how hard he tries, Tom can't avoid the pull of the gentle French teacher who has extended the hand of friendship and he must wrestle with the life-long question that he's had to suppress: Is life even worth living without love?
First things first: I love this book so much that if I could, I'd reread it right now. I want to go back to the beginning and travel through time with Tom, knowing what's going to happen to him in the end.
As you follow Tom, you leap back and forth in time, slowly learning about the experiences that shaped Tom. I think what amazed me the most was the way the author portrayed Tom's life so naturally - even the occasional friendship or run-in with a famous historical character. I've read many books in which historical characters played a role and most of them didn't quite work in some way or other. They just felt off. None of Matt Haig's portrayals gave me that sensation. And, Tom . . . you can't help but root for him. He's so very, very human. Nobody writes about what it means to be human, to live with anxiety and depression and grief and love and everything else that makes us what we are, quite like Matt Haig.
My absolute favorite sentence is a very short one: Grief tilts you.
How to Stop Time is a beautiful story. The beginning is a bit on the melancholy side. Tom was recruited by Hendrich in 1891 and he's tired of moving every 8 years, tired of being lonely, sometimes to the point of wishing that he'd never agreed to keep on living (a promise he made early in his life). He's experienced heartbreak and love, discovered that things really don't change all that much because people forget the lessons of the past, and he longs to find the missing daughter who inherited his condition. But, the ending is uplifting in just the way I hoped it would be.
Highly recommended - How to Stop Time is a new favorite that has earned a place of honor on the good shelves. An absolutely perfect gem of a book with a protagonist whose emotions will tug at your heart, prose that will give you much to ponder, and absolutely flawless pacing.
Side note: The movie rights to How to Stop Time were sold months before the release date and Benedict Cumberbatch has been cast as Tom Hazard. It's going to be every bit as painful waiting for the movie as it was waiting for the book.
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