“Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old history teacher, but he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz-Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen it all. As long as he keeps changing his identity he can keep one step ahead of his past – and stay alive. The only thing he must not do is fall in love . . .”
Some might classify this as a fantasy novel, I really don’t. My personal reading choices seldom ever include fantasy or science fiction. But… one topic that ALWAYS intrigues me is TIME. How it seems to speed up sometimes, how other times it seems to drag… how it remains a mysterious commodity. For that reason I enjoy time travel novels, any stories that feature people in time that is beyond or before their expected natural life span.
“How to stop time” is just such a novel. The protagonist is alive today, but he was born in March of 1581. He has seen many historic events, he has had many occupations, known countless people. Yet he is painfully lonely. Now he lives alone in a flat with just a rescue dog for company. He has just begun in a position as a history teacher in a London school.
“I take Abraham for a walk. He had spent the night eating the arm of the sofa but I don’t want to judge him. He has enough issues already.”
They say that ‘with age comes wisdom’. Well, if that’s the case then Tom Hazard, the protagonist of “How to stop time” is very wise indeed.
Tom has loved only three people in his very long life. His mother, his wife, and his daughter. Because of him, his mother was deemed to be a witch and drowned. His wife died of the plague in 17th century London. His daughter is like him, and because of this she has disappeared. For people like him, ‘albas’ are always on the run. They never stay in one place more than eight years because people would then question how they never seem to age… But they are not immortal, they do age, only much, much, much, slower than regular people. Because Tom has been around for SO long, he now finds himself wanting out.
In addition to his loneliness and his encroaching depression, he suffers from debilitating headaches. All the time. These headaches arise from the competing memories, the jumble of time, the stress of having lived many lives, yet just one.
“All you can do with the past is carry it around, feeling its weight slowly increase, praying it never crushes you completely.”
Tom is a member of the Albatross Society. Every eight years people like him have to move and create a new identity, so as not to be noticed by the general public. This nomadic life has grown tiresome…
“Hendrich Pietersen founded the society in 1867 as a means of uniting and protecting us – people like us – the ‘albatrosses’ or ‘albas’ – from outside threats.” “When it becomes public – either because we decide to tell people, or people find us out – then we are in danger. And the people we care for are in danger. We are either locked away in a madhouse, pursued and imprisoned in the name of science, or murdered by the servants of superstition.”
Tom still mourns for his wife, Rose who perished in 1603.
“she died and I lived and a hole opened up, dark and bottomless, and I fell down and kept falling for centuries.”
The only thing that has kept him going these many years is the search for his daughter, Marion. Like him, she is constantly moving so as to escape the notice of those who would cause her harm.
What a book! A genre that I don’t often enjoy, this novel expanded my mind to a lot of different themes. The mystery of time – of course, coping with grief, history with the unique perspective of someone who has lived it and is now in the modern world and can reflect upon it, the emotional appreciation for music and how it has always been a universal way of communication. With many references to the wisdom of the writings of the French philosopher, Montaigne, it made me wonder why I had never read his works. “How to stop time” is also a modern commentary on our worldwide social condition.
“Places don’t matter to people any more. Places aren’t the point. People are only ever half present where they are these days. They always have at least one foot in the great digital nowhere.”
All in all, I would classify “How to stop time” as entertaining, didactic fiction. I’m glad I read it, which is testament enough I think. Recommended!
I received a digital copy of this novel from Viking (via Edelweiss) for free – at my request, and I provided this review voluntarily.
As a side note: When I first read the blurb for this novel it reminded me of a short-lived television show named “Forever”. For that reason, the entire time I was reading this novel I imagined the protagonist to look like that show’s star, Ioan Gruffudd. Hey, don’t judge me. LOL
Matt Haig is a British novelist and journalist. Born in Sheffield, he now resides in Brighton, East Sussex with his wife and two children. He is the author of the internationally bestselling memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, along with six novels and several award-winning children’s books. His work has been translated into thirty languages.