Book review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

The mid-life crisis of a 400 year old man

How to Stop Time starts with a great premise: just as there is a rare condition that causes people to age rapidly, there is a rare condition that means people age slowly. Enter Tom Hazard, our middle-aged protagonist with an enjoyably pulp-y name, born in Tudor England. 

It’s a brilliant idea and I am predisposed towards the motivations behind this book – which are clearly to express a love of history and ruminate on what an extended life time could teach us about the nature of humanity. 

The issue is, Tom Hazard doesn’t get up to an awful lot in his 400 years on earth. Sure he sees some stuff – witch burnings, Shakespeare, Captain Cook, Fitzgerald. But those are relatively short episodes in four centuries. The fact that this novel is only 300 pages long should really have been a warning sign. Hazard (who fails to live up to his name), seems to have not done very much of anything for decades at a time. 

In fact, Haig makes an aversion to action one of Hazard’s personality traits, which is a pretty strange point of view to tackle the idea of an extended life from. The character is very nice, but meek, so the story reads a bit like The Picture of Dorian Gray without the debauchery, which of course also means there is no moral message.

The format of the novel is to flit back between the present day and relevant experiences in the past. Unfortunately, nothing happens very quickly in the present day narrative either. I got to 100 pages in and was still waiting for any kind of plot to take hold – but instead faced another chapter of Hazard feeling overwhelmed with his reality. Honestly, after 400 years you’d think he would have come to terms with it. When the plot finally does kick in, it’s very predictable.

This has been quite a harsh review so I’ll say at the close that this novel was entertaining and readable – it was an easy world to inhabit for a week and I did make it through easily. The reason I am so down on it is because I think it portrays quite a bleak (and in my mind unrealistic) outlook on life. Where something like Any Human Heart (a book I love) showed just how much life there was to live in just one lifetime, How to Stop Time delivered far less with several.

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