Friday, February 23, 2018

'How to Stop Time' by Matt Haig

23 February 2018

Matt Haig’s novel ‘How to Stop Time’ (which I have just finished reading as an  unabridged audio book, narrated by Mark Meadows) has a great premise. Its narrator is old: if you saw him you would probably think he was about forty but you would be very wrong. Tom Hazard was born well over 400 years ago on 3 March 1581 in a small French chateau. He seemed to be a normal boy, but from the age of 13 he started to age much more slowly than everyone around him. Tom is not alone: there are other people with his ‘condition’, living out a series of lives across centuries, constantly having to move to new places and reinvent themselves every few years to avoid being taken for witches. This sense of the same person living multiple lives reminded me of David Mitchell’s excellent 'The Bone Clocks' (reviewed here in October 2014). It’s an interesting narrative device: this a novel about time travel in which the traveller only moves through time in one direction, very slowly. Tom’s tale is told in flashback, gradually filling in his time in Shakespearean London, on Captain Cook’s voyages to the Pacific Islands and in Paris in the Roaring Twenties. But this time traveller never brings the hindsight of the future to these historical settings, just the accumulated experience of his long long past. Unfortunately Matt Haig lays out the whole premise in the first few pages of the novel rather than allowing the reader to piece it together. And, while he very effectively evokes the melancholy of being someone who outlives everyone he ever loves, ‘How to Stop Time’ feels like a short story expanded into a novel.



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