Written by Matt Haig, the same man who gave us one of my favourite semi sci-fi novels, “The Humans”, “How to stop time” is another Semi sci-fi novel (I say semi-sci-fi because the only science that affects the main characters is their biology), that tells the story of Tom Hazard, a man who due to some freak genetic condition, can live much longer than other human beings. So, although he appears to be a typical 40 something-year-old, his age is closer to 400.
Reading the novel, I was struck by the way it uses the main character, Tom; a person who can assess people through the prism of time and history, as a way of observing human beings and humanity. This is done by presenting Tom as someone trying to navigate the modern world, whilst being plagued by flashbacks of a distant past: a time of intolerance, (shown through the tragic death of his mother and his eventual decision to leave his beloved wife and daughter) but also a time of great beauty and culture (with references to Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald). Tom himself is also a talented pianist, with the piano representing a time when music was an escape from his loneliness. We see glimmers of this intolerance and beauty in Tom’s present life — where he works as a history teacher — with observations of the current political climate, but also with the realisation that an old friend of his has now resurfaced, but unlike before, he no longer has to fear that the discovery of his condition will lead to witch trials and disaster. From this, I felt that the novel was trying to argue that we humans don’t change drastically, but when we do change, it tends to be for the better.
Overall, this novel was a very fast read for me: I finished it in less than two days. I found it to be a very philosophical novel, more about the bigger picture, created by singular moments than the moments themselves. And even though it normally irritates me when authors incorporate historical figures into their novels, I felt that in this case it was done not as a way of trying to make the protagonist seem more important, but as a way of showing how unimportant we as individuals are: Tom has absolutely no influence on the historical figures he encountered through his life. And even though he’s the one still alive, they are the ones whose works have been immortalised in our cultural consciousness.
Written by, Maureen Tuyishime