Review published on July 3, 2017.
Back in 2015, Matt Haig’s The Humans was voted the best book of the year by Newbooks readers; unfortunately it is one that, as is the way of the book reviewer, I simply never got round to. More fool me, obviously. However, I was certain I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again when I learnt about Haig’s latest novel, How to Stop Time.
Having read (and loved) only Haig’s children’s fiction, I hadn’t experienced either his adult fiction or non-fiction, and it is clear from the success of both that I have been missing out. His novels for younger readers showcase a wonderfully imaginative and inventive mind, and it was really pleasing to see that Haig loses none of this wonder or vision in How to Stop Time. Indeed, his novel is a pure creative masterpiece, escapist fiction of the most breathtaking and artistic kind, with a 439-year-old protagonist who was born in the sixteenth century and who is now masquerading as a history teacher in the present day. He has befriended Shakespeare, travelled the seas with Captain Cook and supped with F. Scott Fitzgerald to name but a few of the famous faces he has encountered. But this isn’t just an exercise in historical name-dropping or a whimsical journey through time. At its centre Tom Hazard, who suffers from a rare condition, anageria, which means he ages much more slowly than the typical human. Tom has to face up to the realities of living a prolonged life whilst those he cares for age and die, and others brand him as some kind of demon and force him to live a nomadic existence.
Alternating between scenes from across his four centuries and his present-day story, Haig weaves a compelling story of human connection and meaning, in which the reader is taken on an incredibly expansive journey to different places and times, all of which feel utterly authentic and integral. Indeed, Haig’s book is like having access to a time travel machine for a little while, yet what is great is that the novel is so amorphous; it isn’t science-fiction or romance, it is simply a brilliant story creatively told. There was part of me that longed to see more of Tom’s life in the present, but truth be told I think that I simply didn’t want the book to end.
It may sound like a cliché but reading this book for me really did feel like stopping time in the most magical of ways. It completely removed me from the present and fully immersed me in the pages of the book and Tom’s story, in a way that few books have. I wouldn’t be surprised if it crops up on a few best books of the year awards for 2017; it is without doubt, a very special novel. And though I can’t compare it to his other fiction, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it for individual readers and reading groups.
Jade Craddock 5/5
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Canongate Books 9781782118619 hbk Jul 2017