How To Stop Time

How many lifetimes does it take to learn how to live?

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 stay one step ahead of his past – and stay alive.

The only thing he must not do is fall in love…

When I picked up How To Stop Time by Matt Haig, I was totally ready – unlike poor old Tom Hazard – to fall in love. Haig is such a popular author, and I’ve always really valued his perspective about mental health.

Sadly though, How To Stop Time just didn’t do it for me.

I really didn’t like it. The pacing was off, the characters under-developed, the twist so obvious as to be guessed from almost the first chapter, and the plot never more than hinted at in passing.

But I’ll get back to that.

Because for the sake of balance, I feel I should get into the parts I liked.

Structurally, it was an interesting read. Tom Hazard, as the summary says, has a rare and unusual condition that means he ages very slowly. At the beginning of How To Stop Time, Tom is “well over 400 years old”, and world-weary in a way I suppose unique to people who have lived for more than four centuries.

Following some terrible event in his life – the exact nature of which we never find out, unless I blinked and missed it – Tom has decided to start life over as a history teacher in a London secondary school. The plot jumps in time between his history lessons and the memories his classes inspire – from his experiences with witch trials in the fifteenth century to the time he met Shakespeare. It’s kind of like Slumdog Millionaire if Dev Patel were a school teacher.

Tom’s fluctuating mental health over the centuries, too, felt very realistic to me. It’s pretty easy to feel a certain level of despondency about the world – that the level you’d feel that would be amplified by hundreds of years of seeing the same patterns repeat themselves made a lot of sense. When you’re doomed to outlive (almost) everyone you care about, isolating would seem like the most sensible option to protect yourself from the pain of that.

“This is the chief comfort of being four hundred and thirty nine years old. You understand quite completely that the main lesson of history is: humans don’t learn from history. The twenty-first century could still turn out to be a bad cover version of the twentieth, but what could we do?”

The rest of it, however, I just could not get behind. From the twist you could see coming from pretty much the first chapter, to the ending in which Haig attempts to squash an entire plot into a matter of pages – the result being that most things aren’t satisfactorily tied up, and things that are, are done so far too neatly – it was quite a disappointment to me all around. It was just weak, and I’m sad about that because the premise was so promising.

His approach to his subject matter of hope, existential dread and anxiety about the future also felt heavy handed, and awkward. How To Stop Time made universal worries peculiarly unengaging – by having Tom realise the meaning of life – essentially to live in the moment – through a very underdeveloped relationship with his Freda Pinto, a sexy French teacher with epilepsy (who teaches Tom life lessons by saying things like “who knows anything about the future? I don’t know if I’ll make it through the afternoon!” (I might be paraphrasing)).

So, How To Stop Time was kind of a dud for me, but I’m glad to have ticked Haig off the to-read list.

Author: Lydia Tewkesbury

27. Loves a good story.

8 thoughts on “How To Stop Time”

  1. Ugh, I felt awkward just reading about this book so I imagine how you must have felt reading it, Lydia! It’s one of those things where the concept is good and promising, but its execution fails miserably to capture said concept’s awesomeness. Which is a terrible shame!
    Like I’ve mentioned to you once, I have this book on my shelf but don’t feel too compelled to pick it up. The subject matter and the whole “depressive” MC just don’t appeal to me at the moment (or ever, really), and I’d probably finish this book feeling way too gloomy for my liking.
    There doesn’t seem to be any redeeming qualities to it that could make up for that, either, especially not that close-to-Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl fantasy that seems to be going on with Tom’s love interest *gags* Why do male authors always, ALWAYS fall into that trap? I’ve just recently read One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence and that was one of the things that bothered me the most in it. Not sure if it’s come into fashion again in recent years or if I’m just coming across the bad apples recently but yeah, not a fan. Wonder if I’m the only one!
    Anyway, amazing review as always, lovely 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!

      I know! Why do so many men write these one dimensional women? It’s depressing to think so many of them see us that way! There is really nothing that bugs me more than reading these women who aren’t really people so much as some stand in for a guy to come to a conclusion about himself. It’s lazy and so boring!

      If you do ever read it I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts. I’ve mentioned the book to a few people since I read it and so far no one I’ve spoken to enjoyed it, haha – so I feel quite liberated about my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed… I’m assuming because they either have never met interesting women in their lives or (and this is probably the most accurate reading) simply didn’t make an effort to get to know them better or try to understand them in a less superficial way. Hell, any person can appear boring and one-dimensional at first glance! But hey, I’m no man so I wouldn’t know how their minds work xD

        I also think it’s just their fantasies playing out in writing. Most men want the perfect “Mary Sue” / “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to carry on their narrativs and make them feel more special than they actually are. (If I sound salty, I apologise, but I’m just tired)

        Ugh, I don’t think I will! xD I lended it to a friend of mine who tried to read it and promptly returned it, saying she hadn’t been able to feel engaged. So I think we’re onto something here hahaha


  2. Ah man, that’s unfortunate, especially when you consider that those these themes are very interesting, to begin with. Predictable plots is always something that kills it for me and only some legendary authors are able to make predictable plots super well executed in my books. Sorry to hear this wasn’t as good as you wish it were. Fantastic review as always, Lydia! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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