Cover Image: How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time

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Perhaps it’s a case of hindsight informing an opinion after the fact, but as soon as I read that How to Stop Time had already been optioned for a film (set to star Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock fame) before the novel hit shelves, it occurred to me that the pacing of Matt Haig’s newest novel reminded me of a screenplay more than a novel. The sharp jumps back and forth through time—the current-day actions neatly cut through with relevant flashbacks that amplify their poignance—practically slot themselves into your brain as visual media. That’s not a knock on How to Stop Time, but perhaps it does explain my lingering dissatisfaction with the thin mythos of the novel and the too-quick wrap-up at the end.

There are certainly delights to be found in How to Stop Time, despite its tendency to oversimplify. The story is intriguing even if it never quite fully rises to its potential. Our narrator and protagonist is Tom Hazard, a high school teacher in present-day London, whose secret is that he was actually born 439 years prior and ages extremely slowly—almost unnoticeably, and is resistant to illness and disease. At a certain point during his adolescence, people started to notice that Tom didn’t age, which led to his mother being tried and drowned as a witch in rural England. He has spent nearly his entire life on the run, afraid to stay in any one place for too long, allowing him to work both as a musician for Shakespeare and play piano in a Paris bar during the Gilded Age, but robbing him of the opportunity to make a home.

Fortunately, at the turn of the 20th century, the Albatross Society—named for the belief that albatrosses live a long time—steps in, offering him a deal. If he works to recruit people like them—namely, people who have lived for centuries while barely aging—the Society, with its infinite resources, will help him choose whatever life he wants every eight years (eight years being a reasonable amount of time before people start getting suspicious). After all, scientists and organizations around the world with unknown motives would surely want to get their hands on Albatrosses to discover the secret of their survival, putting them in mortal danger if they were to reveal the truth—not to mention the more analog dangers of villagers thirsting to hunt witches, or doctors thinking they’re witnessing madness.

As its mysterious leader Hendrich (for the record: Anthony Hopkins would nail this role) tells Tom early on, “the first rule is that you don’t fall in love” with “mayflies”, as the Albatross calls ordinary people who don’t have their condition. Tom can have any material pleasure he so desires, but love is off the table—”because otherwise you will slowly lose your mind.” Tom did fall in love once—unwisely, as he tries to convince himself even to this day—when he was working with Shakespeare, and lost his love, Rose, to plague. However, their daughter Marion, who inherited Tom’s gift-curse, survived and has been missing for centuries.

So while Tom is teaching history in London in the 2010s, he waits for the Albatross Society to find her, as Hendrich promised him to sweeten the deal, trying to freeze his emotions and heart in amber. The prospect of outliving everyone you love is undoubtedly horrifying, yet, in a disappointing aspect of the narrative, Tom hasn’t had to suffer through it, since his mother was murdered and his wife died of the plague. He never had to see himself wither away with age even as he wondered when he would grow his first gray hair. As a result, Haig has almost undermined the gravity of the rule against falling in love, because we haven’t had to see Tom go through the pain of loss by degree.

His day-to-day life is a delicate ballet of not accidentally revealing too much first-hand knowledge of the history he teaches to his students and avoiding his attraction to Camille, the school’s French teacher (appearing in my mind as Mélanie Laurent, in case you’re curious). Thus we have the flashbacks that, again, will translate marvelously to the screen—Tom talks about Shakespeare’s plays, only for the narrative to cut to when Tom actually knew Shakespeare, providing character backstory and details for the reader before cutting (the abruptness of the flashbacks is really best described in these film terms) back to Tom’s lesson.

The prose is strong and occasionally excellent, and there are some lovely quirks that allow the reader to experience, in some part, the strangeness of existing through centuries of change and development. In Tom’s retelling, a window in a room in the 16th century is the same size as the portable television Tom used in Brazil in 1980: it’s a neat rhetorical trick that allows us to enjoy the brief anachronism of something in the past being compared to something that doesn’t yet exist, because of how it’s slotted into Tom’s memory.

Tom’s wit, developed over the course of centuries, is also delightful in his flashbacks and contemporary thoughts. The hindsight Tom has gained over the centuries allows him to be fairly blasé about the inevitable coming apocalypses screamed about in comments sections, as he says: “this is the chief comfort of being four hundred and thirty-nine years old. You understand quite completely that the main lesson of history is: humans don’t learn from history.” When the conversation with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald gets a little too close for comfort—they express a desire to never grow old, ironically enough—Tom recalls that he “sighed, hoping this would make me appear thoughtful and serious in and in possession of a great Golden Age intelligence.”

Living through the so-called Roaring Twenties prompts Tom’s intriguing comparisons of all of the Londons he’s known—the “bellowing 1630s” and the “laughing 1750s”—with a similar anachronistic charm to his window-television comparison. It may be stating the obvious, but since no one has actually lived through multiple centuries, these observations about how 1750 differs from 1920 feel utterly fresh and vital. Only in a work of fiction or in a history textbook can we see these decades and centuries judged against one another and contextualized through the sweep of history; it’s apt, therefore, that Tom feels the need to make history come alive for his students since he’s basically a living textbook. Even if his students can’t literally live through the centuries as he has, Tom has seen enough of the world and its incredible seismic shifts to know that understanding history is important, even if to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

With so much thematic material to dig into, How to Stop Time ultimately gives its subject and its world short shrift. I would come back for a sequel or two that really delves into the Albatross Society’s machinations, establishes Hendrich’s and Agnes’s characters as more than plot devices, and really gets into the nuts and bolts of how these Albatrosses can stand being uprooted every eight years for brand-new lives, all in the name of survival. The potential for social media and ever-present state surveillance to completely destroy the Albatross Society by unraveling the members’ alibis is only hinted at when Tom starts to use Facebook.

It’s certainly entertaining to read about Tom stumbling into the realms of beloved famous individuals simply by virtue of being alive for centuries, but it strikes me as a failure to completely craft the world in which Tom, Hendrich, and everyone else live—and how anonymity and escape are pretty much impossible in the 21st century. Again, screenplays aren’t as long as novels, and the world-building in the eventual film will likely use visual shortcuts (such as teasing shots of security or traffic cameras) to help establish that the Albatrosses are essentially living on borrowed time in the present day. In fact, it’s as if Matt Haig didn’t want to address the details of how, exactly, being a near-immortal would work now that cameras that are now ever-present, as well as the infinite stream of information we as 21st-century denizens consume on a daily basis, and so he just chose to focus mostly on the charming flashbacks to Tom rubbing elbows with Shakespeare and the Fitzgeralds.
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Matt Haig is one of my favorite authors, "The Humans" being one of my all time favorite books, so I went into reading "How to Stop Time" with a bit of a bias and I think I pretty high expectations. From the synopsis I was expecting something  more along the lines of "The Time Traveler's Wife" mixed with "The Kingsman". What I got was a vampire-esque main character, who lives through several hundred years and needs to move around, change lives, not fall in love or start a family, etc, and spends almost all of those years complaining about how long he's been alive and following the rules of the group of people like him. Though the characters and concepts are interesting, I don't think the execution was great, and the ending is extremely abrupt. The love story and the adventure that I was expecting just didn't come through.
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I absolutely adored this title. It's been in my TBR list for far too long, but I read it at just the right time. It was an interesting take on the more traditional time-travel novels and Haig really brought to life the characters and locations. It's one I'll purchase for my personal library!
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Haig takes the premise of a kind of near immortality to deftly explore how our perceptions of fear and time intertwine in our lives and our relationships. The main character Tom, nearly 400 years old, is, appropriately, a history teacher in London. As the story moves forward, Tom's story takes the reader to pockets of time - to the time of Shakespeare, to the Roaring 20s (1920s, that is), to the voyages of Cook - as he remembers his past and how it has influenced his present. All the while, he is searching for his missing daughter, who has the same "condition" as he, and hoping to finally reunite with her. A pleasant, light sort of read, with small ruminations on love, fear, memory, and, of course, the passage of time.
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I really enjoyed this trek through the ages. It may be a sad commentrary on humanity that the more things change, the more they stay the same, but I really liked seeing the changes throug time. Always get some nuggets of wisdom from Matt Haig.
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I did not get the chance to read this book for review, but my library did go ahead and acquire it for our collection.
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This was a story that I had a hard time getting into.  The characters took a while for me to get into and like, the story I just didn’t get.
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How to Stop Time is about a 400 year old man, Tom Hazard, who remembers his past lives, more specifically his daughter who he has been searching for. The chapters alternate between present day and his past lives. The past was usually out of order, but it was stories about historical events that Tom remembers happening such as the witch trials, Shakespeare, etc. 

This book gave me mixed feelings. At some points it was entertaining and engaging, but at others it felt long and dragging. But, overall I did enjoy the book
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I won't delve into the storyin my review as I don't want to spoil it for any prospective readers. I'll simply say that I was enchanted by How to Stop Time.  When I read the last page, I was sad that was the end of my time with Tom.
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I’m generally not a fan of time travel stories, but I loved this book. Matt Haig is an author worth following.
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This was an enjoyable read. The ideas and premise of this book are charming albeit a tad sentimental, and I had a pretty easy time of flipping through these chapters as we meet and reference famous historical figures (almost a Forrest Gump sort of name-dropping), and I had a lot of fun with it. When it comes to the core of the story though, I did feel the morals and takeaways were a tad cheesy, but that aside, this was an enjoyable time.
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I started and stopped this book so many times that I have finally given up on ever finishing this book. The concept intrigued me but the story just didn't grab me and now it sits on my virtual shelf accusing me as I choose a different ARC to open.
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Solid classical eternal life plot with interesting historical elements and a conclusion that incorporates modern concerns.
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I should know better than to read books with sci-fi/fantasy elements like time travel. It's just not for me. The premise sounded interesting, but when I actually started reading, the story struck me as overly dramatic and juvenile. I had trouble connecting with Tom. I couldn't empathize with his situation and, I hate to say it, I just couldn't make myself care. Other readers will love this book, but unfortunately I didn't.
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How to Stop Time by Matt Haig is exactly the kind of book I love. It is historical fiction and literary fiction and science fiction and a love story all in one. Why confine yourself to just one genre when you can have them all?!?

In this book, Tom Hazard looks like he is about forty when in fact he is actually more than ten times that age. Born in 1581, Tom's early years were like anyone else's. Once he hit puberty, however, his aging slowed to about one year for every fifteen. This may seem wonderful but in the late sixteenth century this was seen as evidence of witchcraft. Forced to keep moving and changing his identity, Tom has had a difficult time managing his life until he is introduced to The Albatross Society, or albas for short. With this group, Tom is assisted with his transitioning from one life to the next, but what is asked of him in return is a high price.

This book was wonderful. It took me longer to read than it should have because I was out of town and unable to get to it. Given the time I would have easily been able to finish in only a couple of days because it was just so engaging. Tom is a wonderful character- tortured and lonely, but also with brilliant observations on humanity.

I was angry, yes, but as was so often the case with anger, it was really just fear projecting outwards.

It is the simplest, purest joy on earth, I realise, to make someone you care about laugh.

And my favorite:

And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could life without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being f--ed over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Who would I care for? What battle would I fight? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve? How, in short, would I live?

I really enjoyed reading this book and I hope that you will read it, too. The Washington Post called it "a quirky romcom", but don't let that stop you.

And OH MY GOODNESS! I just this moment discovered that it will soon be a major motion picture starring Benedict Cumberbatch!! Okay, now you really do have to read it!
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Thank you Netgalley for allowing me to preview this ARC of How to Stop Time by Matt Haig.

Tom Hazard is an intelligent, 41 year old man, looking to work at a history teacher and live a quiet life.  He works hard to fly under the radar because he has a very unique secret, he is actually hundreds of years old.  And while that may make him interesting, it also puts him in danger, at least that's what he's led to believe.  Tom spends a majority of his life under the "protection" of the "society" which finds and helps to conceal others with his condition.  His first word of advice, don't fall in love.  In this story, it's up to Tom to decide who to trust, and how to really live.

This book had a lot of promise, a really interesting albeit familiar premise.  I think my biggest problem with it was that it was almost too much at too fast a pace, so I never felt very invested in the characters.  I can't say that there was necessarily anything wrong with the story, but it didn't take me on the journey I was really hoping to go on.
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I did not like this book because of the point of view and tense used. There is a trend in writing right now where narrator speaks in first person present tense. Granted, throughout this book, the narrator transitions to the past tense whenever flashing back to bygone eras. However, I've read so many books written in first person present tense in recent years, complete with the limitations of storytelling that entails, that I yearn for books to be written in past tense again.
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I've read other books about people who can live forever, or to an incredibly old age, but they have usually been vampire stories. Frankly, I've liked those books better than this one.  Tom Hazard was born in 1581 with a condition of unknown origin that made him age very, very slowly.  He and the other people with this condition have been forced to uproot their lives frequently so that they are not discovered and burned as witches, subjected to scientific experiments or faced with other  imagined horrors. Tom fell in love and married once and they had a daughter Marion who inherited Tom's condition. Tom became separated from his family and he spent the rest of his life searching for Marion. 

You would think that in 500 years Tom would have done something interesting or exciting or useful, but that is not the case. He moped. He also met some famous people like Shakespeare and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who are name dropped for no reason. I know that it wasn't the intent of the author to write an adventure story or speculative fiction. He wanted to tell a story about the meaning and purpose of life and how to use the time we have. However I found the philosophy trite and the ending of the book really sappy. I didn't hate this book, but I was unmoved by it. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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There are those among us who do not age.. They instead travel through time, moving from place to place as they begin to arouse suspicions. The number one rule is "don't fall in love" and definitely never have children. The main character of Matt Haig's novel has done both and now he's paying the price.

I'm not typically a fan of books about time travel or ultra-long life. It simply stretches my imagination too far. So I was not particularly fond of this book. However, the premise does have some merit -- how would you react if you had experienced acting for Shakespeare, travelling with Captain Cook, WWI and WWII and modern technology? Although at times this seemed almost a bit like "Forrest Gump", the writing is well done and it is pretty imaginative. There's a bit of suspense and mystery involved as well, but all-in-all, I didn't find this particularly captivating.
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I just finished reading Eternal Life by Dara Horn and reading a bit about a genetic defect, that slows aging ridiculously , known as Syndrome X, so this one looked really interesting. Not a time travel book, this one features a man who not only ages very slowly (hes about 400-500 years old) and only looks middle aged, but just doesn't die of old age like everyone else. He belongs to a group, of sorts, of similar people who only have one rule- don't fall in love- ever. I can sort of understand why after Dara Horn's book. Anyway, after all the centuries he's lived, he finally returns to his place of birth to teach history- good choice!- as he's lived through so much of it!   But it was an interesting story, I think one good for summer. Love redeems everything! It's a pleasant read while sitting in the shade, sipping a pitcher of ice tea. take it along on vacation.
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