This was the book that I mentioned in my February Favorites post. Here’s the full review!
How To Stop Time is an Adult Fiction by Matt Haig. It’s a beautiful mixture of historical fiction and a little bit of intrigue and mystery and romance. I picked up this book because I wanted something that had romance in it, and the tagline was “The number one rule is don’t fall in love.” And I was hooked. Also, I got a version that features illustrator Chris Riddell. I don’t have many books (Adult or YA) that have illustrations in them, so it was neat to see the words come to life alongside the gorgeous sketches.
Tom Hazard is the main character and narrator of the story. He has lived for over four hundred years due to a condition that makes him age slowly. The story interweaves between his memories of the past and present day that explains a lot of his motivations throughout the book. This has been one of the most seemingly realistic immortality-esque stories I have read. He isn’t rich or overly talented or charismatic, any more than any other human person, which makes him very relatable even though his condition and life are not. Other people with his condition are not completely like him. Similar, yes, but their own complex personalities and perspectives shape who they are. The “immortals” of this story are each different and have chosen different paths.
The women in his story are probably my favorite part. His mother, wife (Rose), daughter (Marion), and a present-day woman he meets while teaching history in London (Camille) are each different and complex. We don’t know everything about each character since it’s told from his perspective, but they are each painted as flawed yet beautiful people who affect his journey.
It’s written in the first person, from Tom’s perspective. We see his conflicting thoughts, his memories from the past and the present day situations in an effortless flowing narrative. The sections are short, as they flip from present day to various places in the past. And there are so many good quotes from this book. I felt like I could highlight several lines.
So, I don’t feel like I can write much about the plot without spoilers. After losing his mother and later his wife, Tom learns that his daughter might have the same condition that he does. He goes out in search of her and comes across a society of people like him. He joins this society in hopes that they will use their network to find his daughter, but in the meantime, he has to follow their rules – don’t fall in love, move every eight years, do whatever Heinrich (the leader) asks of you. As the story opens in present day, Tom is starting to question staying with this society, but fears what might happen if he doesn’t.
The overall themes of time and relationships are beautifully explored. I don’t want to get into specifics because, you know, spoilers, but the author actually does answer the question of how to stop time.
There is profanity used throughout the book, especially with some characters. It is actually a descriptor for a couple of the characters. And talked about deliberately (like, it’s acknowledged that the character cusses a lot).
There isn’t a whole lot of sexual content, at least none really described. A few kissing scenes here and there, and a reference to some sexual harassment that a couple characters endure. But in the sexual harassment section, it is alluded to, and then Tom goes and punches him in the nose. Nothing graphic
There is some violence. Tom is asked to bring people into the society, and if they don’t want to come, he is supposed to kill them. Tom is shot at one point. And of course, there is death throughout the story as people die and he goes on living. But none of it, I felt was too graphic.
At first, I was going to give this book 4 out of 5 stars because I enjoyed the story and flow well enough. But the ending was so good and as I was reading it, I realized how it had all been building up to this. I got emotional, and that bumps this up to 5 stars for me. It’s a wonderful read about life and time and relationships. I would definitely recommend!