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How to Stop Time


How to Stop Time

Matt Haig is a flat-out wonderful writer. I fell in love with his intelligent and humorous novel, THE HUMANS, a few years ago. His latest release isn't so much a novel as it is an experience. It is slotted amidst the Fiction bestsellers but easily could be filed under Fantasy, Science Fiction and, yes, even Romance. It’s early in the year, but HOW TO STOP TIME most definitely will be near the top of my “Best of 2018” list.

I love books about time travel; “Dr. Who” is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Vampire novels are also a draw for me. However, it wasn't until Anne Rice brought us her own unique take on vampires that we recognized the downside of being immortal. It’s the simple fact that not only do you never die, but everyone you ever meet will die before you. This makes it difficult to strike up any meaningful friendships --- and it makes falling in love all but out of the question.

These are the themes that Haig focuses on in HOW TO STOP TIME. Tom Hazard --- the name the lead character is going by in the present --- has a rare condition called anageria, which makes it nearly impossible for him to die. He also ages at an extremely slow rate, so it isn’t easy for him to settle in one place for periods of time. Any longer than, say, eight years and people might begin to notice the lack of wrinkles or gray hairs --- beyond what you can purchase at the corner drugstore to make yourself look younger.

"HOW TO STOP TIME is full of pitfalls, suspense and wonder at every turn. I literally wished I could stop time to keep this fantastic story from ending."

Tom is not a time traveler in that he cannot jump from one age to another. However, he does travel through time merely by existing for several centuries and seeing history up close. This is why his latest guise, as a history teacher, is the perfect ruse for someone with firsthand knowledge of the people and places he is telling his students about. Tom was born on the third of March in the year 1581. His mother did not have the same condition as he did. During a time when having anything different about you could get you killed, this meant that she was taken and drowned before young Tom's eyes since the ignorant townspeople thought she was a witch.

It took a few centuries, but Tom finally found a way to live safely. A man named Hendrich has formed an international society that works to create new bios and safe careers for people with Tom's affliction. The only conditions are that he must keep changing his name and location of his home base every eight years to avoid suspicion. Also, and most importantly, he must never fall in love.

Tom enjoys his new role as a history teacher at the Oakfield School in London. The only problem is that the young French teacher is showing more than a passing interest in Tom. Camille also catches Tom's fancy, and he begins to experience feelings he swore never to have again. Especially after he lost his one and only wife, Rose, many years earlier. The other sore spot for Tom is that he and the only woman he would call his wife had a child --- a young girl named Marion. She was born with the same affliction as her father, and he has been trying to find her for what seems like ages.

Tom has to be lectured by Hendrich and other handlers that the world has changed and now has many ways to find him out. The witch hunts may be over, but in their place are scientists --- the new witchfinders. Hendrich doesn't want Tom going off looking for his daughter because it might reveal what they really are and threaten to expose all of their kind. Tom has to keep his plight private, just as he must hide his burgeoning feelings for Camille.

HOW TO STOP TIME takes us back and forth across the ages, and it is spectacular to watch Tom as he is employed by a young William Shakespeare to be one of the musicians working at his new Globe Theatre. We also get to see Tom interact with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, and shrewd readers will love the impact he has on Fitzgerald's writing.

The problem is that Camille is no fool, and Tom sometimes gets paranoid around her as if she might be on to him. One night, during a dinner date, Camille confesses that she fell in love with a famous picture of the great nightclub jazz singer, Josephine Baker. She was always drawn to the young man playing the piano for Baker in that photo, and he bears a striking resemblance to Tom.

HOW TO STOP TIME is full of pitfalls, suspense and wonder at every turn. I literally wished I could stop time to keep this fantastic story from ending. Highly recommended as a novel that defies description and characterization, and is impossibly addictive in the process.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 9, 2018

How to Stop Time
by Matt Haig

  • Publication Date: June 11, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0525522891
  • ISBN-13: 9780525522898