Book Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
In Matt Haig's How to Stop Time, the protagonist Tom Hazard is a high school history teacher who has amassed an extraordinary amount of experience--not as a teacher, but rather as an observer of history. You see, Tom has lived much longer than the average human being, and while he looks like an any other forty-one-year-old man, he has experienced centuries being alive. His long life and vitality put Tom at risk; if others find out about Tom's abilities, who knows what they will try to do to learn the secrets of his existence.
This is where the Albatross Society comes in. The Society is made up of other individuals like Tom who look at the ephemeral lives of normal human beings (known as mayflies in the book) as something to be afraid of rather than respected. The Society's rules are simple: you change your identity every eight years and you never, under any circumstances, fall in love. Ever.
Navigating his life as an alba (short for albatross) and searching for a normal life in unusual circumstances, Tom Hazard faces a risk that could leave him in mortal danger.
I will be honest with you, reader, when I say I discovered this book at 2nd & Charles on the recommendations shelf, and I picked it primarily because of its cover. The note attached stated that the employee highly recommended the book because of the incredible talent of the writer. I knew with the glowing recommendation-- tied to a cover like the one seen above-- I had to read this book no matter what content lay ahead. I was prepared to be disappointed as I have been in the past with other books where cover art is clearly more important to the author/publisher than the content inside the text. However, this book did not disappoint.
The prose is the striking attribute of the novel, and I must say that Matt Haig attracts readers into the story by providing a willing suspension of disbelief at the start. His sentences are short and get to the point quickly without requiring a re-read to glean important plot points and characterization. By twenty pages into the novel, I felt that I had a brief understanding of Tom Hazard's character and found myself drifting into the story without wanting to stop. The voice of Hazard filled my mind as he shared the details of a life so much longer than imaginable.
The novel uses flashback to fill in details surrounding emotions and situations experienced by Hazard. Initially, I was worried that this would distract from over-arching plot structure and create confusion, but I eventually found it comfortable and saw the ways in which it highlighted the consternation Hazard feels when navigating a new identity in a familiar world. I saw the greatest effect of flashback when understanding Hazard's relationships with other characters in the novel. By the end of the novel, I began to anticipate the flashback to provide a better understanding of the emotions felt and the memories applied to the situation.
The characters are well-written and defined so they naturally exist across centuries of time. Even those with brief roles in the text are relatable to the bigger picture and can be partnered with the individuals Hazard has experienced. Matt Haig commandeers history believably and guides readers by using influential names such as William Shakespeare, Captain Cook, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even so, the scenes involving said individuals are short enough to be believable without re-writing or over-complicating history and losing the reality in otherwise fictitious environments. Haig is obviously inspired by history without feeling entitled to recreate situations that make the text read as an alternate account of what actually happened.
I could go on and on about how great this book reads, but in reality, I want to spend that time exploring other works by Matt Haig. I am thankful to the bookstore employee who recommended this text to me and am grateful to have taken part of this reading experience.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐