August 20, 2018

Book Review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Tom Hazard has just moved back to London, his old home, to settle down and become a high school history teacher. And on his first day at school, he meets a captivating French teacher at his school who seems fascinated by him. But Tom 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. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

Unfortunately for Tom, the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: Never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

The Age of Adeline, but with Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Okay, our protagonist actually ages, unlike Adeline - but very, very slowly, about a decade for every century.  Not bad, right? There is no magical component to Tom's "agelessness," but a medical condition which is the opposite of the better known progeria (which is an abnormally advanced rate of aging).

Like The Age of Adeline, Tom has to deal with the dangers and curse of seemingly never aging. In the 1700s, he is accused of black magic - although appearing to be fourteen when you're really eighteen doesn't seem that alarming or noticeable to me. Appearing to be fourteen for a decade would.  (This was my problem with the movie as well.) I think moving and assuming a new identity every 8 years seems a bit much. But then I live in a time when almost 60-year-olds like Madonna retain the appearance of youth through botox, plastic surgery, and clean living.  I suppose in the olden days people aged much faster and so moving every 8 years might have been smart. 

As to the name-dropping - I just had to scoff every time someone famous (and male) entered the narrative.  Not everybody who lived in 1700s London met Shakespeare. Not everyone in 1920s Paris drank with Fitzgerald. I suppose that's what I appreciated about The Age of Adeline - as it dealt with an otherwise normal human being trying to live discreetly as she outwardly retains a 29-year-old appearance for 80 years. 

"The first rule is that you don't fall in love."

"You are, of course, allowed to love food and music and champagne and rare sunny afternoons in October.  You can love the sight of waterfalls and the smell of old books, but the love of people is off limits... Don't attach yourself to people and try to feel as little as you possibly can for those you do meet. Because otherwise you will slowly lose your mind."

I also was not convinced of Tom's modern romantic situation - not enough there to make me believe his 400-year-old heart will suddenly be rejuvenated.  

So far, if you're keeping count, I was far more taken with The Age of Adeline than How to Stop Time. However, the book has an ace up its sleeve in the form of the handsome Benedict Cumberbatch.  Yes, it's going to be a movie folks.  I'm more than curious to see how this translates on film and will definitely go see it.  

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