Time can be daunting. No matter who remarks on time, the general consensus often is that both too little time and too much time can instill fear. Love, too, is a thing to be feared because it is a thing to be lost. These ideas play heavily throughout Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time.
Tom Hazard, the novel’s main character, possesses a rare disorder that inhibits aging to an extreme degree. So extreme, in fact, that toward the novel’s climax, he has passed his 400th birthday, although his physical appearance is that of a 40-something-year-old man. With this many years under his belt, it seems only logical that he winds up as a history teacher in a London school. No one else knows that he is an Albatross (the term given to the growing group of near-immortals), of course, as the knowledge of what he is presents a terrible danger to Mayflies (normally-aging people). He has lived an extraordinary life filled with a myriad of lifetimes, all along holding dearly to the memories of what he has lost and, as such, constant reminders that he cannot experience life as a normal person, no matter what the era.
The progression of the novel from the beginning is a juxtaposition of Hazard’s present-day told alongside snippets from history, presented as vignettes of important events of his life that serve to slowly build the staircase that leads to what happens as the novel’s end nears. London and the countryside surrounding it is presented in all its smelly history as readers are taken through late-1500s market days where Tom meets Rose, who plays a large part of his story. Rose is a Mayfly, and against his better judgement, Tom falls in love with her.
Tom’s childhood awakened his fear of time after seeing his mother unjustly accused (and subsequently murdered) for being a witch. The accusation, flung about during an era that was fascinated with witch hunting, was easily believed in the light of the realization by townspeople that Tom wasn’t aging as others aged. When Tom flees after his mother’s death and finds Rose, his fear is ignited. Rose will age normally. Tom will not. And so the story unfurls that Rose succumbs to the passage of time while Tom is left knowing that he will live on and on without her. But the time Tom had with Rose holds the most import for him, and it is because of his deep love for her that he cannot let her memory go, even after dozens of decades.
How to Stop Time is a story that weaves poignant and even funny moments with threads of loss and memory, punctuated with moments of happiness.
How would you imagine your world if you lived hundreds of years beyond everything you had ever known? How would love and loss and memory affect you as you traveled through the future in which you knew no one?
When Candice isn't drinking coffee and reading books for Apostrophe Box, you can find her making candles and all sorts of other trickery for Blue Spider Books. She is raised by her two teen-aged children and her husband-person, Jeremy, who do their best to keep her in line.