Tom is old. He looks as though he is in his early forties, but in reality, he’s over 400 years old. He has a rare condition that slows down the usual human ageing process, giving him an extraordinarily long life expectancy.
It means that he can’t sustain long relationships; not only do the people around him age fifteen times faster, but people get suspicious as the wrinkles appear on their own faces but not on his. He’s lived through four centuries, and now finds himself starting over once more in London in 2017, choosing life as, what else? A history teacher.
Tom’s greatest challenges come from the ‘society’ of a group of similarly afflicted people; they call themselves ‘albas’, and everyone else ‘mayflies’, a reference to the contrasting life spans of albatrosses and the flies that do all their living in a single day. Led by the domineering Hendrich (who in his current guise is doing his best to help ‘mayflies’ stop time in their own way in his career as a plastic surgeon), Tom is expected to fall in with everything the society expects of him that will help keep their existence a secret.
The non-linear narrative allows us glimpses into Tom’s past; we understand how he grew up, distrustful of anyone who discovered his secret, but also see how he falls in love with a woman, Rose, who was always destined to grow old ahead of him. The years bear heavily on him; whenever we catch up with him in the modern day, he is having trouble connecting with people, suffering from severe headaches, and feeling almost entirely hopeless.
In the end, the only thing that does keep him going is the smallest glimmer of hope that he might one day be reunited with his daughter, who is an alba just like him. This is a story of loneliness; Tom is a solitary prisoner in his own life; unable to truly connect with people, as he knows it’s only a matter of time before he must uproot his life and move on.
But it’s also a story of hope against adversity; if there’s anyone who should want to give up, it’s a man who has lived for 400 years, and has seen the people he has loved torn away from him.
Matt Haig is an exceptional writer, who sweeps the reader up in the story and doesn’t let go until he has wrung all of the emotion out of you. This is an expertly plotted novel, with cameos from the likes of Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the all-encompassing idea that if there is a way to stop time, it’s probably by falling in love.
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Publication Date: 6th July 2017
Provided by publisher via Netgalley