How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

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How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: From someone who's quietly become one of the nation's biggest sellers comes another inventive, clever and life-affirming read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: July 2017
Publisher: Canongate Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781782118619

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Tom is an albatross. That's not to say he has a freakish wingspan, or anything, but it means he's not a mayfly. In contrast to all us regular humans with our temperamental bodies living out short lifespans, he ages at a speed roughly one-fifteenth of that at which we do, and barely gets touched by any disease. It means he will live for several more centuries than the ones he has witnessed so far, but ever since his mother was drowned as a witch due to his teenaged self never ageing, he has known the best thing for him – and others – is to regularly move on. Solitude has been tempered since the late Victorian era, when other people even older than him press-ganged him into their society of albatrosses, but the fact of the matter is that falling in love really is a no-no. But that's not to say it never happened, and that's not to say that he can't feel things for the albatross daughter he's not seen for centuries. It might be the only thing he has to live for…

This is a strange book, in that if you boil down several elements to their core, they smack of Hollywood cliché and so-on, but nowhere is the bombast of the cinema – what we get is a subtle, general read, that is really quite charming and clever. So, as for the centuries he has lived through – here is a hero who could do a Forrest Gump, what with his working alongside Shakespeare, and meeting F Scott Fitzgerald, Chaplin and the like. But we only get that in measured, pleasant drips, and that's certainly not the full-on thrust of the narrative. Similarly, the Albatross Society reminded me a little of the X-Men stories, and the way some of those characters deemed their forced isolation and difference to be no different to their superiority to us regular humans. But sinister Machiavellian boss aside, there is nothing of the genre work in particular.

And I include in that fantasy, science-fiction – whatever genre you may be thinking this is. It's just a book where the miraculous is accepted as gospel truth. You get an up-close-and-personal look at the heartbreak a man with an inestimable lifespan can suffer, alongside the ways he tries to counter his losses and his ennui – the drinks and experiences he undergoes, the things he spends time learning, the jobs he does – including being a history teacher in contemporary London, in the book's framing story.

Neither is it particularly a romance – yes, the young love he had with an Elizabethan beauty and what became of that is mainly what drives him, and you get strong senses of unwise stirrings in the modern time, but it's not strictly about love. If I wasn't mistaken, Tom's narration tells us several times that xx is all that's left of life when the detritus is worn away, or yy is what we're here for – this is about a man piecing together what his centuries of experiences have led him to believe. In keeping with the very humanist – and very popular – books Matt Haig has given his adult audience recently, it's a look at finding balance, acceptance, happiness – and yes, love – when your being born has condemned you to never fit in.

And let's face it – a lot of us have felt that we don't fit in at some point. But something else this book isn't is bleak – it's lively, inventively-crafted, and entertaining throughout. Draw a graph of the timeline featured here and it would be a most jagged, ugly thing, but however we're hurtled through the decades by our author we are allowed to keep in touch with it all, and it's really a simple task to read a complex narrative. The world here is a very rich one, and that, added to the various timezones, means you seldom get pause to see where this book is taking you. But when it's such a pleasurable ride as this one, that is definitely not an issue.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai was similarly frivolous with putting genre, sci-fi elements into a general love story read. For more life-affirming stories by the same author, you might want to take a look at The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

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Buy How to Stop Time by Matt Haig at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy How to Stop Time by Matt Haig at


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