How to Stop Time, Matt Haig

By Natasja Hellenthal


Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan 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. Here he can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. He can try to tame the past that is fast catching up with him. The only thing Tom must not do is fall in love.


“We know what we are, but know not what we may be”

How to Stop Time is a truly magnificent book and a must-read! I had heard good things about his other books, bestsellers too, and chose this one because of the unusual premise and my obsession with anything to do with time – the greatest mystery of life. I have never highlighted so many passages before in any book and will re-read this book for the beauty of it. It’s very well-written in first-person which I love, the pace is excellent and the prose visual, whimsical, and often emotional (many things are funny and some are sad bringing tears to your eyes). I didn’t want this book to end!

The genre is partly fantasy (only the part of the main protagonist’s strange condition, but utterly believable), historical (well-researched), part romance (though not too much), and philosophical (loved it). It is essentially about Tom, a 41-year-old man born March 3, 1581 and still alive today (2018). Tom ages very slowly though he will die one day like the rest of us (after 900 years), but outlives everyone around him, including those he loves. His mother, and then his one true love. He only fell in love once over the course of 400 years. For the romantic in me, that was super adorable. If you have ever loved and lost you’ll recognize the feeling.

“And she died and I lived and a hole opened up, dark and bottomless, and I fell down and kept falling for centuries”.

Tom lives in fear of discovery and loneliness, and lives in the past most of his days. When people begin to notice his bizarre condition (he doesn’t seem to age), assumes a new identity in a new place every eight years or so. This means he becomes estranged from the rest of humanity and from life overall. His only reason to live on is to find his daughter that suffers from the same condition as him. There is a society for people like him ruled by an eccentric guy, Hendrick, who helps Tom relocate and provides him with a new identity each time. The book jumps through Tom’s memories from time to time and brings you right there, vividly detailing the streets of London in the 16th century with all the smells and sights, as well as later times and back again, but I never felt lost or that I couldn’t keep track. Tom felt very real with the same flaws as we do, even for a 400-year-old man, though sometimes I did find him a bit naïve and clueless, but that could be because he was so focussed on finding his daughter and more an outsider of society.

There are so many lessons to be learnt from this book, apart from “how to stop time” by slowing down and living more in the present for the past not to crush you. “The past is never gone, It just hides”. For not to be afraid of the future, the lesson of the power of love, of hope, of believing in the good hearts of people.

“I want you to slow down. I just want it all to slow down. I want to make a forest of a moment and live in that forest for ever,”

We are living in a society where everyone is fixated on everything else, be that mobile phones, Facebook, tv, the news, and are losing touch with each other and themselves. Are either afraid of or just don’t know how to be content living in the moment any longer. Learning how to “just be” and to be happy in that moment is one of the lessons we learn along this journey. The question is when and how much time will we waste before we learn this simple truth? After all, we cannot control time and must try to live in the present moment.

“We are what we become. We are what life does to us.”

The ending of the book was satisfactory, though a bit rushed maybe and what happened to Hendrick seemed to me a bit too easy.

Overall, I can wholeheartedly recommend this novel and I will read his other works as well.




Natasja Hellenthal is a bestselling published author of ten novels to date. Based in Maureillas, she writes thought-provoking, speculative fiction and has started her own book cover design company. Follow her here.

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