Book Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

I am old. That is the first things 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. I am old– old in the way that a tree, or a quahog clam, or a Renaissance painting is old.

Tom is chronologically challenged—he suffers from a condition known as anageria which causes him to age at one fifteenth the rate of the average human being. He has lived through the plague, met Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but the very thing he hasn’t done is what he most desires—to live a normal life. Instead he is part of The Albatross Society, a group of others with the same condition, which offers protection through a strict set of rules, the most important being: Do not fall in love.

She smiled a soft, troubled smile and I felt the whole world slipping away, and I wanted to slip with it, to go where ever she was going. I did no know how to be me, my strange and unusual self, without her. I had tried it, of course. I had existed whole years without her, but that was all it had been. An existence. A book with no words.

But Tom was fortunate enough to find love before he found The Albatross Society, with a women named Rose with whom he made a life in the early 1600s. She rescued him after the first major loss of his exceptionally long life and together they found happiness. But Tom is prone to tragedy and soon he is left with a broken heart, searching for meaning in an endless spectrum of time.

Too many memories.To many ghosts. It was time to be someone else again. I suppose the way I understand my life is as a kind of Russian doll, with different versions inside other versions, each one enclosing the other, whereby life before isn’t seen from the outside but still there.

Flash forward to London, present day, where Tom is sitting in an interview for a job as a school history teacher—a subject he is uniquely qualified to teach. Out of the window he glimpses a women who catches his eye and flutters his heart—feelings he hasn’t experienced in nearly 400 years. Just as soon as he imagines his life with this women, the edict of The Albatross Society flashes through his mind and he is reminded of the danger and torment that lay at the end of such an experience. He is caught between what life requires of him and what his dreams tempt him with.

As the story continues, it flashes back through Tom’s history, touching on the various experiences that have shaped his marathon existence. Through these we chronicle his triumphs and heartbreak, to eventually learn where his devotion to The Albatross Society stems from. However, when his past and present collide, he is left to question everything he built his life on.

People you love never die. That is what Omai said, all those years ago. And he was right. They don’t die. Not completely. They live in your mind, the way they always lived inside of you. You keep their light alive. If you remember them well enough, they can still guide you, like the shine of long-extinguished stars could guide ships in unfamiliar waters. If you stop mourning them, and start listening to them, they still have the power to change you life. They can, in short, be salvation.

With striking heart, Tom’s quest for authenticity and belonging is relatable even amidst the circumstance of his life. How to Stop Time is a memorable love story that examines how the past and present are in constant flux, each influencing the other in myriad ways.


A review copy of this title was provided by Viking Books.


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