I got her to play two strings, back and forth, plucking at a quickening pace, along with my heart. I touched her arm. I closed my eyes, and felt fearful of how much I felt for her.
‘Music is about time,’ I told her. ‘It is about controlling time.’
Tom Hazard is much older than he looks, having been born in Elizabethan England with a rare genetic condition that causes him to age very, very slowly (at the rate of approximately one year for every fifteen years). While his mother considered it to be a gift, the condition has caused Tom numerous problems in life. Fear, suspicion and heartache dominate his existence. He’s had to endure his losses, alone, for centuries.
When a mysterious woman named Agnes holds him up at gunpoint late one afternoon in 1891, telling him that she’s taking him to Plymouth and, from there, to America, he has no idea what to think. What he learns is that there are others like him in the world, and that they’re part of a secret organisation, which he now must join. The first rule of the organisation: that you must not, under any circumstances, fall in love. Those who are part of the organisation must change their identities every eight years, moving to a completely new location in a different part of the world and becoming an entirely different person. This is, supposedly, to ensure their safety and the safety of others like them.
The story is told in first person from Tom’s perspective and alternates between his present—where he teaches history in a Tower Hamlets comprehensive school—and his various, colourful pasts. Haig does an excellent job of capturing the feeling of history without getting bogged down in detail, while simultaneously keeping the focus on how Tom’s past affects his present-day reality.
How to Stop Time contains all the right ingredients for a highly engrossing and memorable story: romance, adventure, an exciting plot with mounting tension, immersive settings and an empathetic protagonist I rooted for all the way through the book (and then some). Matt Haig has certainly succeeded in stopping time with this novel, not only for his protagonist, but also for this reader.
How to Stop Time is published by Canongate Books.
I bought my copy of How to Stop Time from my local independent bookstore, Ink 84.
How to Stop Time is available from all good bookstores and from Amazon.