April’s book group ‘How to Stop Time’ Matt Haig

As part of the bookshop we have set up a book group. This runs as both an online facebook group and also meets in person. We held our first monthly meetings in the last week of April, (we have an afternoon and evening meeting to accommodate all). For more information on the book group and to join either visit our Facebook page Lost in Books book group or send us an email to hello@lost-in-books.co.uk. The book chosen was the one reviewed below, Matt Haig’s ‘How to Stop Time’.

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This was an interesting read and our book group had mixed views about it. I, for one, loved the book, although preferred ‘The Humans’, one of Matt Haig’s earlier novels. The protagonist in the book is Tom Hazard, a seemingly ordinary 41 year old living in London. However, we soon learn he is suffering from a rare condition that makes him age very slowly and he is actually well over 400 years old. He is protected by a society of similar people run by the slightly sinister Hendrich, and has to move on every decade or so to stop people realising the truth about him. The society’s main rule is that he mustn’t fall in love.

The book takes us back to his beginnings in France and then England with his mother in 1599, a time of witch hunts and superstition. We follow his story moving between present day and the past in short chapters. This is where I believe the difference comes with liking the novel or not. It works well when it is read relatively quickly, and does not seem to work as well when the book is read slowly over a period of weeks, dipping in and out. The changes in time are not too difficult to cope with and the cast of characters is relatively small with quite a few famous figures dotted throughout. This was apparently done on purpose by Matt Haig as he thought, well why not! If his character is going to live throughout history why not have him meet famous figures. We learn more of Shakespeare first hand. For me, this gave an implausibility to the book which did trip me up occasionally although the descriptions are excellent. The ending of the book has a showdown and seems to be written in a slightly different style to the rest of the book. A few people felt this was the best bit, others confused by the jump in pace/style. There were mixed views on the character of Tom. Some really didn’t get on with him finding him too melancholy and introspective. Having read Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, I believe there is quite a bit of the author reflected in Tom. He is at a point in his long life where he is reflecting on what to do next and feeling there must be more.

The love element is interesting as it seems almost naive the way he was once deeply in love centuries ago and now begins to fall for a new woman. Implausibility again as he has lived so long and learnt so much about the human character, and yet seems almost like a school boy with a crush now.

The prose is undeniably good with some beautiful turns of phrase which can almost be lost in the short chapter pace of the book. They didn’t stand out enough to sway the people who disliked the book. Ranking it scored from a 3 out of 10 to an 8 out of 10. Our book group gave it an average of 5.8 overall. The best recommendation is to read it over a weekend and enjoy the story, the historical descriptions and the concept and not get too bogged down in Tom’s character or the implausibility of parts of it.