Matt Haig’s new novel is sure to leave a smile on your face

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

‘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 may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabeth 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. The only thing he must not do is fall in love.

Matt Haig had a tough act to follow after the phenomenal success of last year’s part-biography, part-self-help-book Reasons to Stay Alive. It was one of my favourite books of 2016, and one I have dipped in and out of repeatedly since buying it. So I was prepared to love How to Stop Time. Although it had its flaws, Haig has continued his winning formula of crafting believable, hopeful stories that leave the reader with a smile on their face.

Let’s get the flaws out of the way first. The premise is interesting but it’s been done before and Haig stumbles further into cliché by having his protagonist, Tom, meet various real life people along the way; he is hired by Shakespeare and sails the seas with Captain Cook, among others.

One of the things I love about Haig’s writing is the hope. His books are full of darkness but among all the shadows there are wonderful moments of hope and joy. There is hope in How to Stop Time, but it takes a while to get there and it becomes quite taxing to follow a character who spends so much time mourning the past.

However, there was a lot I enjoyed about this novel. There are moments of piercing insight that make you pause and put down the book as you contemplate their genius. Haig has always found a way to interpret the messy, confusing business of being human with language that is simple yet astoundingly perceptive. He understands people, and creates his characters in an honest and believable way.

With Tom having been alive for such a long time, he finds he is losing himself in the grand scheme of things, feeling smaller and smaller against the backdrop of the ever-rolling wheel of history. This book charts his journey to accepting that there is nothing he can do about the progression of time; he can only try to make the most of it, and lose himself in the pleasure of a moment.

Tom is also a member of the Albatross Society (so named because albatrosses were believed to live for a long time). The Society is formed of people like Tom and its purpose is to prevent ordinary humans, or ‘mayflies’, from finding out that there are people who can live to be 800-years-old. The Society added a much-needed thriller element to the story, with the increasing threat of the Society’s founder, Hendrich, hanging over Tom as the story hurries along to an exciting and tense ending.

Although it’s fairly obvious what’s going to happen at the end of the book, it still leaves you with a feeling of lightness, a desire to go out and live life and make the most of it all. Despite its flaws, it is life-affirming stuff and guaranteed to leave a spring in your step.

Many thanks to Canongate for sending a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Literary novel from New York Times bestselling author

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Her life is architected, elegant and angular, a beauty to behold, and mine is a stew, a juicy, sloppy mess of ingredients and feelings and emotions, too much salt and spice, too much anxiety, always a little dribbling down the front of my shirt. But have you tasted it? Have you tasted it. It’s delicious.

Andrea is a single, childless 39-year-old woman who tries to navigate family, sexuality, friendships and a career she never wanted, pondering questions such as: What if I don’t want to hold your baby? What can I demand of my mother now that I’m an adult? Is therapy pointless? And at what point does drinking a lot become a drinking problem?

I’d never heard of this book until I was researching the publishing company behind The Essex Serpent, and stumbled upon this new release from New York Times bestselling author Jami Attenberg. It is billed as ‘hilarious’ and ‘wickedly funny’, and a truthful examination of how it feels to be a 21st century woman.

I can’t say I agree that this book is hilarious. It’s often witty, amusing, and once or twice laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s far too dark to be called a comedy. I understand that that’s the point, and I enjoyed the shameless examination of life as a single woman in New York, but it became more and more depressing until, by the time I finished it, I was glad to put it aside (even though it’s only a slim 200 pages).

The story is told in vignettes, a format that works well as we are provided with brief glimpses into the moments that have made Andrea into who she is, the moments that have shaped her beliefs and reveal to us what it’s like to be her.

I enjoyed Andrea as a character; she is fiercely independent, flawed, resilient, and relatable. The cast of characters around her are also realistic and deftly sketched. It is uncompromising in its portrayal of the darkest parts of a woman’s mind, and follows Andrea on her journey as she tries to figure out this whole adulthood thing.

If you’re not a fan of literary novels, this won’t be the book for you. If you’re a fan of Lena Dunham’s Girls, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Many thanks to Serpent’s Tail for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.