How To Stop Time has been climbing the charts since it was first published in the UK back in July 2017 (it was released in the US last month). But this of course was no surprise given that it already had a very famous name attached to it before it was even released; Benedict Cumberbatch got a hold of an early edition of the book and his production company, SunnyMarch LTD, immediately bought the film rights. Cumberbatch himself will play the main character.
So yes, this book had a lot going for it right out of the gate. Any story that Benedict Cumberbatch specifically asked to be the lead in has to be an interesting one, right? Well indeed it is any interesting story. How To Stop Time is a poetically spoken, hyperrealistic tale of a man — Tom — who has a rare condition that makes him age exponentially slower than a normal human being. Tom looks 41 years old, but he has actually been alive for centuries. He’s met Shakespeare, seen the Industrial Revolution, explored Paris in the roaring 20s, witnessed the birth of the internet, and everything in between. But as it turns out, living life after life after life gets exhausting, and his existence is not only threatening to himself, but those around him as well. Aptly told in a series of flashbacks, How To Stop Time depicts the life of a man who has more time than he knows what to do with, and the love that helps him to make the most of it.
I found this book to be light and easy to read, which seems like it shouldn’t be the case because the book is actually pretty dark. And that in itself seems like it shouldn’t be the case because the cover and the summary makes it sound like it’s going to be a sweet time-transcending love story, which in some ways it is. Ok, I know this is getting confusing now — It’s not at all confusing when you read it. It’s honest. The book encompases the whole of human emotion, and still manages to master the nuances of each one. Haig never backs down from the chance to delve into some truths about serious topics. For example, the main character actually has very severe depression and considers suicide many times, and while it’s addressed and treated with the utmost seriousness, the book as a whole is rather uplifting. There is a love story at the heart of it (well, a few of them really), and there is no page which leaves the reader without hope.
The book has some resemblance of a plot, but mostly it’s a lot of philosophical musings about time and existence and how fleetingly inconsequential the average life is. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this very much, but it caught me by surprise just how much of the book is dedicated to it. It talks about a lot of complex ideas without being convoluted. It’s easy to digest and wonderfully poetic. The book has a very escapist quality — not only does Tom talk about all of the interesting time periods he’s lived through, with all of their unique pleasures and struggles, but also of all the exotic places he’s lived in as he constantly has to keep moving around.
As a character, Tom is not the most delightful of people. But, to his credit, he’s had a (very) long and difficult life. At the beginning of the novel, he spends most of his days going through the motions, his life completely devoid of any real meaning. From there it picks up and backtracks to explain how he got to his current position as a schoolteacher in London.
Overall, I found the novel to be a pleasant read. It was a unique story and Haig’s writing offered some really interesting perspectives.
But what I found particularly captivating about it was the discovery I made when I was about halfway through reading it and I decided to look up the author, Matt Haig. I learned that Haig has openly written on his struggles with anxiety and depression, and suddenly the book had so much more meaning to me. It makes sense that this book is a piece of art that came from and was a way to cope with the very dark times Haig faced.
If you’re looking for fast-paced action, this isn’t your novel. But if you’re looking for something a little quirky and thought-provoking, How To Stop Time is a great option.
And I think it will lend itself really well to a film adaptation, so that’s a plus.
Tell Us: Have you read How To Stop Time? If you have, what did you think? If not, do you plan to?