Imagine you could have lived forever. You know what, not forever, but for a very long time. Imagine that you would age ten times slower than any normal human being, so by the age of four hundred, you would appear to have just finished the fourth decade of your life. What a beautiful life it could be, you must think to yourself. But if you ask someone who has been there, you might hear a different answer than the one you expected, or at least that it is a little more complicated than you think.
Meet Tom Hazard – a history teacher, a man of the big world by all accounts, a talented musician, and an immortal human being. Okay, maybe it would be an exaggeration to call him immortal. Still, the kid barely scrapes the 400-year-old from the top. Yet, at a glance, you could not have imagined the life he had on his way to your son’s high school history lessons. That he was himself a part of history when he joined Captain Cook’s travels, or when he met William Shakespeare. But aren’t we all part of history, if only by our mere existence?
Tom Hazard deals with the life he left behind, the people he used to know, and long ago became the dust of history, the loves that will never be forgotten. With the sights that keep haunting him even today, centuries after they have passed. Because it is another side and a little less glamorous of immortality. The world is evolving and changing, and the people you know end up growing older and die while you keep your youth and have to adapt to the new, strange and lonely world that takes the place of its former. And so, as he wanders around the twentieth-century London, Tom sinks into memories of the world that was, and the people that were, and the pain that remains.
The real magic of this book is hiding in the small details. As Matt Haig begins to describe Tom’s life in the past centuries, the reader can really feel the raindrops of old London and hear the rustling noises from the market. But he doesn’t do it with tedious and endless descriptions. It’s the seemingly insignificant little details he throws into the cauldron that gives the readers the sense that they were really there. This casualness, that does not exert any effort to impress the readers with the author’s impressive debriefing, is what gives Tom’s memories the nostalgic atmosphere that they reek of, and manages to make readers miss a time that not their fathers nor their fathers’ fathers got to see.
As you would expect, Tom is not the only person that suffers this rare syndrome that extends his life. A secret group called the Albatross Society is the one that tracks them down to unite people of Tom’s kind and protects them. Though this protection comes under a hefty price and under stringent rules, including the ridiculous ban on falling in love, because of the dangers such infatuations could lead to.
It is very tempting to compare this book to “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.” But while Claire North takes her story to a much more impulsive and tense road, “How to Stop Time” is not drawn into plot twists and remains what it was from the first sentence – a vulnerable romantic fantasy. In that respect, Tom Hazard is much more reminiscent of Louis de Pointe du Lac, Anne Rice’s tormented vampire, than Harry August.
This is the first book in a long time that I can honestly say I swallowed in one sitting (give or take), not only because I was on vacation and experienced a rare peaceful time by the pool, but because I couldn’t get it out of my hands. The realistic yet so much unrealistic life of the so impossible character that stands in the center of this book caught me by a storm and wouldn’t allow me to leave it, not even for the soft, cold water of the pool. Matt Haig’s Writing takes this complicated and simple story and turns it into a small candy you don’t want it ever to finish. A bit like immortality.
In conclusion, a fun sweeping book from the kind that you rarely find.
Five historic landmarks and one secret association.
How to Stop the Time / Matt Haig / Canongate Books
This is not the first time Matt Haig has been dealing with immortality, though in The Radleys, the circumstances were slightly different.
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