The American President is a motherfucker.
Just one of the lines from Matt Haig’s new novel, How To Stop Time, which forces you to stop time, stop reading, and laugh out loud.
The story is a relatively simple one, but one that I’ve been eager to read since I first heard about it last year. Tom Hazard is old. He’s very old. Four hundred and thirty-nine to be precise.
He has a are condition that causes him to age at about a fifteenth of the rate of everyone else, which sounds rather excellent at first, because we’re all a little bit scared of death, and this man will get to live – probably – for a thousand years.
Except… everyone else isn’t aging at the same rate. His parents, his friends, those he love. They all die, will die, eventually, while he’ll live on.
We join him at the beginning of a new life. Tom periodically, along with others of his kind, starts again, as people become suspicious of his never-changing youthful appearance. As he navigates the new relationships, trying to avoid becoming too attached, we learn about his history, about his wife long-since dead, his past encounters with famous writers and poets… and his daughter who MAY still be alive.
Any novel that plays with time is expected to be a little convoluted, hard to follow, but this is such an easy read – because while time is long, there is no time travel in it, the pieces we read of Tom’s past are like the flashbacks we see in any contemporary novel – they’re just to a much earlier time.
I found the principle of the story intriguing, just how can someone cope with that much loss in their life, what propels him to keep going when year after year the people around him are dying, the history of the world is repeating itself over and over again.
The answer, we learn, is hope.
Hope that his daughter may still be alive, hope for a better life, where one day he can be open about who he is.
If you follow Matt Haig on Twitter, you’ll appreciate this book on another level. There are references to the trolls he encounters on a daily basis who attack him for being a snowflake, and there is an underlying political point that Haig is making in this novel – but if you miss those, then that’s ok – it’s still a wonderful book.
It is a testament to the writing that a book like this can work. Much of what we have is exposition, historical narrative explaining who Tom is, with the plot only really going up a gear towards the end. But a skilled writer like Haig can just sweep you along in the writing – and it takes a certain special something to make a reader instantly remember the name of an obscure character mentioned briefly at the beginning of the book when they later pop up again.
If I had one criticism… I wanted more. I could have stayed learning about Tom’s history for pages and pages more. We skip over years and years – because as implied there were great periods of nothing happening.
Perhaps a sequel?
How To Stop Time is published on 6th July by Canongate