The idea of a story centered around a perverse concept of ageing or death is not in itself new. Certainly in recent years the film industry has shown us Brad Pitt ageing backwards in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Blake Lively frozen in time in the beautiful Age of Adaline. Clare North gave us the wonderful The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, one of those rare books that The Husband and I both loved, where the main character dies and is reborn with absolute memory of all his previous lives. Kate Atkinson, in her novel Life After Life, plays with the idea that we all keep getting born into the same life until we get it right. So, then I find myself asking, if the concept of how we age, live and die has been, excuse the pun ‘done to death’ over the last few years then why are we still all drawn to it and why did I just love How to Stop Time so very much?
Of all the books I’ve read this summer, this is my favorite and let’s not forget this is the summer of The Nightingale and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, neither of which should be overlooked under any circumstance. So why this one? Well, although I shouldn’t say this, I think I might just be in love with Matt Haig, or perhaps, more precisely, the way he writes. This is a writer who is witty, clever and can turn a phrase like almost no other, whilst remaining elegant and poignant all at the same time
Tom Hazard ages ever so slowly. Born in 1581, by the present day he looks 41. He has lived through terrible times, lost people he loves in the cruelest of ways and to top it all off has decided to become an history teacher in east London (imagine!). A member of a secret organisation for people like himself he is obliged to move on every eight years and most importantly, to never fall in love. Tired of life, Tom would struggle to keep going were it not for one thing, Tom has a daughter with the same condition and the need to find her drives him forward.
The character of Tom is so well portrayed in this novel that the world weariness exudes from every page, but in a fascinating and refreshing way. Haig brings a bright originality to each of his character’s incarnations, whether it be lute player or explorer you are captivated all the way. More impressively in every incarnation, Tom remains Tom, such is the integrity of his character and without this, the novel quite simply wouldn’t work. You are bonded to Tom and he behaves in character no matter which era he is discussing.
I loved it.