439 Years To Live a Life: A Review of Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time

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Publisher: Canongate Books
Publication date: July 6th, 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Pansing Malaysia
Page Count: 325

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I am old. That is the first thing to tell you. The thing you are least likely to believe. If you saw me you would probably think I was about forty, but you would be very wrong.

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret.

He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen a lot, and now craves an ordinary life. Always changing his identity to stay alive, Tom has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try and tame the past that is fast catching up with him.

The only thing Tom mustn’t do is fall in love.

How to Stop Time is a wild and bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself, about the certainty of change and about the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live.

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“I have been in love only once in my life. I suppose that makes me a romantic, in a sense. The idea that you have one true love, that no one else will compare after they have gone. It’s a sweet idea, but the reality is terror itself. To be faced with all those lonely years after. To exist when the point of you has gone.” 

When I finished Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, it took me a while to comprehend what I just read. This is my first Matt Haig novel and I was pretty blown away by how well he writes.

How to Stop Time may seem like a fantasy / sci-fi novel about a man living through the ages witnessing history as it unfolds (the book develops by going back and forth between the present and past), but it is so much more. Not only do we get to relive the past since the late 16th century all the way to the present time with such clarity and unique perspective from a person who’s been through it all, we also get to see how painful it was to live through all of that alone.

How to Stop Time doesn’t really have a plot. It’s not about a man who lives for hundreds of years and saves the world by being a spy or whatnot. It’s about a man who lives for hundreds of years but doesn’t seem to be actually living it.

It is about the human condition of living, connectivity, love and the ability to attain freedom to choose the life you wish to live. The albas, what Tom is known as in this book, live so many lives over the period of those centuries, in order to avoid suspicion and threats, that they lose sight of what it really means to live. Tom finds himself alone during these centuries of solitude and he feels dejected with all these different lives he’s had to play. You can’t help but to feel for Tom and wonder if this life of near-immortality is something really worth it?

The emotions coursing through me as I read this book was sad. Sad at how even with a very long life, Tom still feels unhappy and lonely as ever. As he spends his life trying to find his lost daughter, he goes through life as if he’s an insignificant bubble in the ocean.

“To grab them. Each little moment as it arrives. To be living in something other than the past or the future. To be actually here. Forever, Emily Dickinson said, is composed of nows. But how do you inhabit the now you are in? How do you stop the ghosts of all the other nows from getting in? How, in short, do you live? ” 

It really makes you think. Of your life choices, and how you would want to live with the present by coming to terms with your past. How do you make your life worth it? How do you live so you won’t get bored of the work and people around you? How do you make time not look so tiresome and pointless?

“That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days – some years – some decades – are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.”

In short this is a very beautiful and well written book. It is raw and honest, it makes you wonder if you’ve ever taken life for granted and what kind of life are you willing to actually live for?

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I would highly recommend this book to anyone who’s in the mood for some life reflections. And I just found out the movie rights have been bought for this book and Benedict Cumberbatch is to star in it. Gosh imagine how amazing the movie will be.

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Thank you Pansing Malaysia for providing me a copy in exchange for an honest review!


4 thoughts on “439 Years To Live a Life: A Review of Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time

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