Book Review | How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Have you ever wished you could stop time? In 2017 nothing stops. Everything is constantly changing. Our feeds updating, mobiles buzzing, someone’s always trying to grab our attention to tell us new information or sell us something. It’s not always easy to keep up, but if you disconnect from the digital world for even a few hours, you can’t help but feel like you’ve missed something and, however hard you try to avoid social media, FOMO will always win.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

There is less time in the smart phone world because every second is filled with new information and there’s always something to be distracted by. Switching off is harder than ever and I know I’m not the only one that wishes they could stop time, to take a step back and breathe. In Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, Tom Hazard feels suffocated by time, not because it’s moving faster than he can handle, but because he has too much of it.

Tom Hazard (just one of his many aliases) looks 40 but he’s that, plus 400 years. His rare condition called Anageria means that his body ages at a very slow rate. For every 15 years of his life, his body ages just one. To prevent the rest of mankind, or “mayflies”, from suspecting anything he joins the Albatross society, run by a man called Hendrich, which gives protection to its members by moving them to new locations every eight years and providing them with new identities. In return Hendrich asks for special favours when he requires them.

You’d think it would be a blessing to live for so long – you could do so much more, travel the world, learn multiple languages, read all the books etc. – but it’s actually a curse. You inevitably lose everyone who matters to you so falling in love is the one rule set by the Albatross Society that shouldn’t be broken.

Tom has seen the world change drastically since he was born in 1581. It goes without saying that there have been advancements in everything from technology to medicine, but it’s frustrating for Tom to watch humanity make the same mistakes over and over again. It’s a depressingly lonely existence, especially when people aren’t present anymore, ‘they always have at least one foot in the great digital nowhere’.

The split narrative switches between Tom’s life in the present day working as a History teacher and flashbacks to his past, transporting us to a variety of intriguing eras from Elizabethan London to 1920’s Paris. He encounters some famous faces along the way including Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Captain Cook amongst others. His story remains believable without becoming a who’s who of historical figures, however tempting it must’ve been for Matt Haig to include more! Just as Tom does for his pupils, Matt Haig brings History to life. You don’t once doubt the authenticity of Tom’s memories even though they blur the lines between fact and fiction, and feel like you’re experiencing everything with him.

London is a tapestry of time and holds a wealth of memories for Tom. His pain is palpable and there’s a raw honesty to Matt Haig’s words, powerfully touched by his own experience of mental health issues. His poignant, insightful commentary makes you think about what it is to be happy and live a fulfilled life. Rather than wish for more time on this planet, Tom’s story makes you want to live each day you do have to the fullest.

A captivating, compelling read, How to Stop Time is about coming to terms with your past and understanding that life is precious, as well as a learning curve; even after 400 years, Tom is still learning things about himself and others.

In an age where everything moves so fast and content is constantly consumed without being absorbed and considered, Matt Haig encourages us to take a moment to reflect. So, if you want to know how to stop time, switch off your phone and read a book, especially this one.