How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Our Bookish Mamas choice for March was How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig. I have to say, I had never even heard of Matt Haig before when the book was suggested. But other Bookish Mamas members were very enthusiastic, making me feel like I had completely missed out on an amazing author.

What’s How to Stop Time All About?

Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41 year old. But he has a secret: he was born in 1581. He has a rare genetic condition which means that he ages much, much more slowly than normal humans. As you can imagine, this makes life – not to mention relationships – very difficult. So he lives a transient life, never living in the same place for longer than 8 years.

During the 400+ years that he has been alive, he has had some extraordinary adventures – Jazz Age Paris, the South Seas with Captain Cook and Shakespeare’s England to name a few. But the golden rule for the albatrosses, as they call themselves, is simple: never fall in love.

What did the Bookish Mamas think?

On the whole, we really enjoyed this book. We especially loved the sections in Elizabethan England, which are brilliantly imagined. The descriptions were exceptionally vivid, and the plot twists and turns pretty dramatically.

I have to say, the Elizabethan England sections were my favourite. They seemed incredibly well-researched, with differences in the language used, the fashions and fads of the day being noted and characters, including Shakespeare, being brought to life beautifully. I think we were all affected by what happened to Tom’s mother – although I don’t want to give any more of the story away.

We also loved Tom Hazard. He’s a very honest, trustworthy character – although he sometimes doubts his own memory – and we enjoyed his perspective. There are some other brilliant characters too, both Albatrosses and ‘normal’ humans, with some dubious morals at various points which gave rise to some good discussion.

We also liked the thriller aspect of the novel. As a genre, I suppose it would be a form of magic realism, but it certainly had elements of drama, thriller, historical novel and romance in it. It has a really broad appeal, and I expect both men and women would enjoy it.

For many of us, it reminded us of The Time Traveller’s Wife, for obvious reasons. Although I enjoyed The Time Traveller’s Wife, I actually think I enjoyed How to Stop Time more. It’s easier to follow – although involves a much wider time frame – and the shifts from present to past are handled really effectively.

The Discussion Questions

These were the questions we used for our discussion:

1. Is Tom Hazard’s condition a blessing or a curse? Is a long life always a good life?

2. Matt Haig has said that this book was partly inspired by his own experiences of mental illness. In what way has this shaped the novel? What are the consequences for Tom of having a condition that is invisible to the outside world?

3. Tom is told explicitly he must not fall in love. What makes him defy this rule? How do Rose and Camille inspire him to change?

4. What did you think of the different time periods described in the book?

5. What did you think about the language – especially the dialogue – used in the novel?

6. What did you think of the transitions between time and place in the novel? Were they effectively handled or jarring?

7. What did the other ‘Albatrosses’ bring to the novel? What about the Mayflies?

8. How would you describe this book to a friend? Would you say this was a historical novel, science fiction, literary fiction or something else?

Want to join Bookish Mamas?

All our discussion, including live video discussions, happen in our Facebook Group.

Our April 2018 book choice is Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham.

Our May 2018 book choice is The Great Alone by Kirstin Hannah.

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