How to Stop Time by Matt Haig is a time-hopping fantasy about a man struggling with a rare condition: he ages slowly. Very slowly. When we’re introduced to Tom Hazard, we learn that he though he appears to be 40, he was born in 1581 and has been alive for centuries.
When I first heard about How to Stop Time, I actually pegged it as a time traveler story. The reader experiences Tom’s life both in the present and in the past. However, he doesn’t travel back in time. He doesn’t have that ability. Haig frames Tom’s ability to age slowly as a “condition” that others experience as well. He’s not going to live forever, but he’s definitely out living generations. And like any condition, it has plenty of drawbacks. His mom is tragically murdered because the local townspeople believe his lack of aging is due to “witchcraft.” When he does find love and has a child, he leaves them since his ‘condition’ endangers his family. And this puts Tom in a rut for a long, long time.
While I did enjoy the book, I kept wanting something “more” from it.
By that I mean, more adventure, more suspense. On another note, and this is a testament to Haig’s writing, it felt like Tom’s almost immortality was “real.” There’s an authentic feel to Tom’s frustration, despair and boredom at living so long. Like if someone did have the ability to live centuries, it might just get ‘old’ after a while. From Tom’s experience, history really does repeat itself and human nature doesn’t seem to change all that much.
With each chapter, we’re slowly introduced to Tom’s previous lives. This helps give context to why he’s so bitter now. And luckily, the last quarter of the book really takes off and the story takes an exciting turn. I just wish this turn could have made an appearance earlier in the book.
There are some fun layers to the story with appearances from Shakespeare and Fitzgerald, plus other entertaining anecdotes such as the first time Tom has a Bloody Mary and a hot dog. There’s also quite a bit of philosophical thought. Tom is so stuck in the past with his tragedies that he’s forgotten how to live in the present. The question becomes is he ready to give up on life or can he open himself up to new experiences and human connections?
The undertaken of this story is not an easy task with all the different time periods, locations and characters. I think Haig did an impressive job of feeling genuine to each time period. There are history lessons woven in as well.
Overall, I do recommend How to Stop Time.
This story is original, unique and does make you think about the importance of letting go of the past and living in the present, no matter what.
How To Stop Time is scheduled to become a film adaptation with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. I can see areas of the story where it might be a better movie than book. But before the movie comes out, make sure you read the book.