How To Stop Time Review
How To Stop Time by Matt Haig: My Review
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
The key to happiness wasn't being yourself, because what did that even mean? Everyone had many selves. No. The key to happiness is finding the lie that suits you best.
How to Stop Time was a really enjoyable read for me. The concept was very unique, quite reminiscent of a time travel novel as the protagonist Tom, who suffers an unprecedented affliction causing him to age only a year for every 15 years he lives, takes us back centuries with flashbacks from his 400 year-old life. It took a few chapters for me to acquire a full understanding of Tom's 'illness' and the strangeness of his life, but once I got there he became such an engaging and complex narrator with a lot of interesting ruminations to share and an abundance of memories to recount which cleverly shape his past and our understanding of his emotions and motivations in the novel.
While the frequent time-jumps were sometimes a bit disorientating, the way the story flips from Tom's present to his past was overall totally captivating and really allowed me to apprehend how the people and events in his life centuries ago still infiltrate his life now. What we find in his past is a lonely, sad existence with a brief time of happiness perpetuated only by his falling in love with Rose in 1599 and the birth of their daughter. It was heartbreaking to see him have to run from his moments of joy in order to keep his loved ones safe, and it is this that connects to his desire to find his daughter years later while working as a history teacher in a London school. Weaved throughout his narration there are provocative musings on the nature and mortality of human life that Tom has been able to reflect upon greatly after living through 400 years in an ever-changing society, and these really slotted an intellectual element into the story that was thought-provoking without being too heavy.
When I first read the synopsis of How to Stop Time, I couldn't help but focus in on the last line that reads: "The first rule is that you don't fall in love". Immediately, I got the ominous feeling that this book was going to be one big predictable cliche which is something I HATE in books as being surprised by what I read is a huge part of a reading experience for me. However, I was pleasantly surprised. He does, of course, fall in love, but it happens very early on in the story rather than being something the story was leading up to which definitely made his relationship with the love interest a lot more elaborate and unpredictable. No real relationship comes about until near the end and even then it has its problems because of all the secrets Tom hides from her and the inextinguishable memory of his old lover Rose.
There were moments of sheer nerdy enjoyment for me, such as when he is working at the Globe Theatre for Shakespeare and his interaction with F. Scott Fitzgerald in a Paris bar. I loved how the author used Tom's life to somewhat expose how greatly-revered creators of literature from centuries ago still lived a very normal life, smoking cigars and drinking beer in city bars with friends, which is something I naively never considered or thought could be true of such successful figures. The conversations between Tom and Shakespeare or Fitzgerald as they discussed their current writing and the early success of their recent published works in the 1600s, which are now revered and studied as classic literature in 21st-century society, were truly fascinating and, while obviously fictional, eye-opening in a way I did not expect.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Tom and Rose, I found pretty much all of the characters to be fairly two-dimensional and not as engaging as they could have been. Hendrich was a particularly odd guy who adds a strangely ominous dynamic to the story yet his motivations were extremely hard to follow for me, probably due to the lack of development in his character. I also would have appreciated a bit more diversity in the cast but it wasn't something that really bothered me about the book until I finished and looked back on it.
Overall, I thought How to Stop Time was a very well-executed entertaining novel with an interesting protagonist who we follow across his many years alive, a journey from which, as a reader, a lot can be learnt.