Book review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

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3/5 stars

Audible version, narrated by Mark Meadows

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything as I’ve been working on finishing my very first draft of my own novel (which I did last Sunday, yay!) and I tend to read less when I’m writing intensely, plus I’ve been rereading Harry Potter which I don’t really feel the need to review (what is there left to say?).

Nevertheless, it is telling that it took me a month to finish this book.

The premise is really interesting. There are people who do not age normally, but live for closer to 1000 years. We follow one of these “Albas”, Tom Hazard who is just over 400 years old. He’s currently working as a history teacher (makes sense, since he’s lived a lot of it), and he’s reluctantly part of the Albatross organisation who are centred around keeping the fact that there are Albas out there a secret. He is looking for his daughter who he knows is like him, but who he hasn’t seen since he had to leave her and her mother for their own protection, when his daughter was only 9.

It’s an ambitious work and Haig must no doubt have read up on a lot of history to write a novel that spans 400-odd years, and there are parts of it I quite enjoyed listening to. It’s just that nothing really happens. It jumps back in time throughout Tom’s life, telling of important events (falling in love, being introduced to the Albatross society, trying to explain his condition to a doctor etc.) but somehow it’s just not very dramatic – it doesn’t hook me. The blurb says it’s a love story spanning centuries, but all that really means is that this 400 year old man was once in love and now he’s sad. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely something inherently sad about outliving everyone you love. And it’s definitely interesting to get the perspective of someone who has lived for centuries, both on the modern world and the past, but it’s just not interesting enough.

And with the history vs modern day bits I felt like the author was trying a little too hard. Tom Hazard has met so many famous historical characters, which just seems kind of unlikely. And the observations on modern life  – Facebook, fake news, Tinder (how would a man who is not interested in meeting people or making connections even know what it is to swipe right – or was it left – on Tinder? See I don’t know that because I’ve never used it) fell a little flat. It was like he was trying too hard to cement the now in our present.

Like I said though it had its moments and there were some nice lines I would have highlighted had it not been an audiobook, I just wish there’d been more of a developed story rather than basically describing things in history.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I liked the book. Like you said, it wasn’t very dramatic and not much of a love story but it was a nice change compared to the other immortality or longer lifespan books I’ve read.

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    1. I have to admit I haven’t read a lot of books on that topic – a few vampire ones but they never really focused much on history, so I did enjoy the atmosphere but it just wasn’t engaging enough for me. It didn’t make me want to continue reading. I’ve read a couple of Matt Haig novels now, and while I did enjoy Echo Boy quite a lot, I feel like both that one and How to Stop Time are a little too simple, in a way. That sounds like an insult and it’s definitely not meant as one – a lot of craft and hard work went into the books. Rather it’s in a weird way a compliment because I feel that they’re so close to touching on something universal and fundamental but they’re not quite there, which leaves me with this feeling of what it could have been – if that makes sense.

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