I am very late in introducing myself to Matt Haig. He’s been around a fair while and I have several of his books on my vast and overloaded To Be Read shelves including The Midnight Library but I decided to start with How To Stop Time.
I liked the premise of this book – it’s about people who age very much more slowly than your average human. They are not immortal, they are definitely going to die at some point, but whereas your average human would be very lucky to live one century, many of the characters in this book will live around five times that long.
Our protagonist is Tom Hazard, born in a French chateau in 1581. His father was killed and he and his mother fled to England where, in Sussex and directly because of Tom’s lack of ageing (which kicks in in late childhood), his mother was labelled a witch, sent to the ducking stool and drowned proving her innocence.
Tom flees to Elizabethan London where he becomes a musician for Shakespeare and meets the love of his life Rose. They have a child, Marion who, like Tom suffers from the slow-ageing disease they call anageria but Tom’s inability to age normally causes problems and he is forced to leave his family.
The novel jumps forwards and backwards in various intervals in a timeline between 1881 and the present day where Tom is a history teacher in a London school but his mind is overloaded with the memories of more than four centuries and he’s struggling.
He has joined an organisations called Albatross which calls its members Albas and the rest of the world Mayflies (because they die so quickly). It helps him reinvent himself every eight years with a new persona and history so his condition isn’t discovered.
Once every eight years he has to perform a service for Albatross which could be recruiting a new member… or killing a new Alba who refuses to become a member. In return the organisation has promised to help him track down his daughter.
I loved the time shifting in the book, each time the timeline switched you got a little snippet of juicy information about his modern day mental health issues or the lives he had lived after leaving Rose.
Matt Haig’s characters are strong, his relationships with people believable and his descent into his mental health issues portrayed brilliantly.
I’ve not read a story quite like this before and it’s difficult to categorise into a genre. Perhaps speculative fiction, part historical novel, part science fiction? I don’t know.
I do however know I loved this book and am very much looking forward to reading The Midnight Library… just not yet because I like a bit of variety between my authors.