Matt Haig’s new book offers advice on how to stay sane in a mad world

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

‘I am keenly aware that the oft-used approach of pointing out a list of advantages of modern life, such as health and education and average income, does not help. It is like a wagging finger telling a depressed person to count her blessings because no one has died. This book seeks to recognise that what we feel is just as important as what we have. That mental wellbeing counts as much as physical wellbeing – indeed, that it is part of physical wellbeing. And that, on these terms, something is going wrong.’

Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our body mass index. How can we stay sane on a planet that makes us mad? How do we stay human in a technological world? How do we feel happy when we are encouraged to be anxious? After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, these questions became urgent matters of life and death for Matt Haig. And he began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him.

In 2015 Matt Haig released his bestselling Reasons to Stay Alive, a fantastically honest account of his experience with mental ill health. Notes on a Nervous Planet is a kind of follow-up, though it focuses less on Haig as an individual and more on society at large.

Haig takes on some big, scary subjects here, from how long it will take for our jobs to be taken over by robots, to the despair and anxiety created by 24/7 news. In fact, the first few chapters are so full of doom and gloom you might be tempted to put the book down. But in amongst Haig’s damning takedowns of everything from shopping centres to magazines, there are bright flashes of hope, offering a kind of guidebook on how to stay sane when 21st century life is getting you down. Sections on why you should be glad you’re not a robot and why really no one cares about what your face looks like but you, are both funny and reassuring.

The format of the book makes it very accessible and easy to read, as all the chapters are very short. The succinct essays and insightful lists make it the perfect book to dip in and out of, and to come back to time and time again.

Haig doesn’t set out any perfect solutions on how to change the world or slow the inevitable march of time towards ever smarter technology. Instead he offers easy-to-follow snippets of advice to help you feel less alone and better able to cope with the parts of modern life that might be getting you down.

This book is for anyone who has ever scrolled through Instagram and felt depressed because their lives aren’t like the perfectly framed and filtered images on the screen. It’s for anyone who has ever looked in a mirror and hated what they saw. It’s for anyone who has ever been made to feel like a cog in a machine in their workplace, rather than an actual individual. It’s for anyone looking for a little bit of hope in a world that often seems as though it’s going mad.

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

Advertisements

New book releases July 2018

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our BMI. After experiencing years of anxiety, Matt Haig began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him.

Matt Haig is a wonderful writer and I’ve loved everything he’s written so far, both fiction and non-fiction. His latest book is a follow-up to his fantastic book Reasons to Stay Alive, and promises to offer hope in a world gone mad.

Release date: 5th July

 

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

1857. Audrey Hart travels to the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the communities there. But the crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories. Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead, spirits who take the form of birds.

Mazzola returns with her second novel after the success of her debut, The Unseeing, in 2016. I’m always interested in books that explore folk and fairy tales, so this sounds right up my street.

Release date: 26th July

 

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Miryem is the daughter of a moneylender, but her father is too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her heart and takes up his work in their village. Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attracts the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die.

Novik is a hugely popular fantasy author and in this, her latest novel, she puts a dark spin on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

Release date: 12th July

 

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations. Magic marked Miles Singer from the day he was born. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man. When Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark is exposed, he must put his freedom at risk to investigate a murder.

This is one of the most highly anticipated debut fantasy books of 2018, and is said to combine intrigue, magic, betrayal and romance.

Release date: 1st July

 

The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

Inside the Dead Letters Depot in East London, William Woolf is one of 30 letter detectives who spend their days solving mysteries: missing postcodes, illegible handwriting, lost address labels, torn packages – they are all the culprits of missed birthdays, broken hearts and unheard confessions. When William discovers letters addressed simply to ‘My Great Love’, his work takes on new meaning.

This book promises to continue the trend of ‘up-lit’ (optimistic and uplifting books) that have gained such popularity recently.

Release date: 12th July

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Eagle & Crane by Suzanne Rindell

Louis Thorn and Haruto ‘Harry’ Yamada – the Eagle and the Crane – are the star attractions of a daredevil aerial stunt team that traverses Depression-era California. The young men have a complicated relationship, thanks to the Thorn family’s belief that the Yamadas – Japanese immigrants – stole land from them. When one of the stunt planes crashes with two charred bodies inside, the ensuing investigation struggles when the details don’t add up.

A few years ago I read Rindell’s brilliant 1920s novel The Other Typist. Her newest book returns to the same setting but with a very different story. Hopefully this book will have the same pin-sharp characterisation.

Release date: 3rd July

 

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth

Charlie Calloway has a life most people would kill for. A tight knit family. A loyal set of friends. A fast-track to whichever college she chooses. But Charlie isn’t interested in what most people want. She’s a Calloway. She’s special. And she’s been taught to want more. So when she’s invited to join an exclusive secret society, her determination to get in is matched only be her conviction that she belongs there. But behind the mysterious façade is a history of lies which unravels everything Charlie thought she knew, including the story behind her mother’s disappearance 10 years ago.

This new novel has been described by Entertainment Weekly as ‘what you would get if you combined The Secret History with Cruel Intentions’, and sounds like it would be a perfect beach read.

Release date: 12th July

 

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook. First there was the car accident – two girls dead after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Two girls killed by the man next door. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they’d lost. That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But some people in the town know more than they’re saying.

Bestselling author Kara Thomas’s new book has been called ‘sharp, brilliantly plotted and totally engrossing’, and promises to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Release date: 31st July

 

Contagion by Erin Bowman

After receiving a distress call from a drill team on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is sent into deep space to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission. When they arrive, they find the planet littered with the remains of the project – including its members’ dead bodies. As they try to piece together what happened, they discover that some things are best left buried.

This new novel from critically acclaimed author Erin Bowman has been called ‘pulse-pounding, hair-raising, utterly terrifying’, and is the first in a duology.

Release date: 24th July

 

Testament by Kim Sherwood

Eva was always closest to her grandfather out of all her family. So when he dies, she’s hit by the loss of the questions he never answered, and the past he never shared. It’s then she finds a letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have uncovered the testimony he gave after his forced labour service in Hungary, which took him to the death camps. But there is a deeper story that Eva will unravel – of how her grandfather learnt to live afterwards.

Sherwood is the winner of the Bath Novel Award and her debut has been called ‘compelling, moving and ultimately uplifting’ by author Heather Morris.

Release date: 12th July

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.