Canongate Books 2017
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 to tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom must not do is fall in love.
How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to learn how to live.
This was my first Matt Haig read and if I’m honest I only made the purchase because it was the Goldsboro Books ‘Book of the Month’ a signed first edition book club of which I am a member. Their book choices are usually spot on and this was no exception.
A detailed story of Tom and his four hundred year life. Working as a history teacher in London the story is told in the present time and at different points in the past, which are cleverly linked to the present day. The writing is incredible and having finished this book a couple of days ago, I am still blown away by the skill of Matt Haig as the author. The story is superb and the detail in the historical sections is almost tangible, particularly the grime and stench of 16th century London. Coupled with this, unsurprisingly Tom, in his 400 years on earth has had some remarkable encounters with some famous historical characters and this added a touch of magic to the story for me. The plot is comprehensive with Tom and others with his condition having to live a secret life, moving frequently to avoid detection and taking sinister steps to maintain this secret.
Not an especially happy story as we observe Tom reach an awareness about what it means to live a life and this being different to simply being alive. The loss is profound and the loneliness palpable as Tom’s story is told. The culture of the times is brilliantly written, from witchcraft in the 1600s to technology in the 20th century all posing a threat to Tom. Clever aspects of the writing made me smile, the mistakes humans don’t learn from because their lives aren’t long enough, the cycles of life.
The writing flows well and despite the moves between past and present it was easy to follow. The characters were well developed and became familiar which was helpful as there were a lot of people in Tom’s long life. The chapters were short enough to read in chunks but the book was hard to put down! Written entirely in the first person as Tom tells his story. A highly engaging read.
Another great choice by Goldsboro Books check them out here. I’m calling it now, in May, this is one of my top reads for 2018.