It is likely due to my current period of unemployment following my move from London to York, but I have been reading a LOT recently; books that have been sitting in my shelf unread and unloved for far too long, books that friends have recommended, classics that I somehow never got around to reading but have long been nagging my conscience, and books I have stumbled across in York's wealth of second-hand bookshops (why, oh why am I so incapable of NOT ENTERING SAID BOOKSHOPS).
I am an absolute bibliophile, as you may know. I LOVE that magical way books are able to transport us into worlds undiscovered and previously incomprehensible to us. Every now and then though, a book comes along that blows others out of the water. I finished a book just this week that did that for me, and as this does not happen all that often, I feel compelled to share it with anyone who may read this blog, as I could not recommend it highly enough. That book is called How to Stop Time by Matt Haig.
Before going on I have to acknowledge that of course, just because I loved this book more than any I have come across in a long time, does not guarantee your enjoyment of it will equal mine. Indeed, I have been surprised to see numerous reviews that are far less than favourable on my most trusted book reference site Good Reads. Alas, what speaks to one person so strongly may merely whisper weakly to someone else, though I confess in this case I simply cannot fathom how that is possible here, but nonetheless...
WHAT IS THIS BOOK ABOUT?
A love story across the ages – and for the ages – about a man lost in time, the woman who could save him, and the lifetimes it can take to learn how to live. Tom Hazard 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.
So Tom moves back to London, his old home, to become a high school history teacher – the perfect job for someone who has witnessed the city's history first hand. Better yet, a captivating French teacher at his school seems fascinated by him. But 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, the one thing he can't have just happens to be the one thing that might save him.
WHY DID I LOVE IT SO MUCH?
There are two reasons this book resonated with me so strongly. The first is that I am the epitome of a history geek. It's partly why I love my new hometown York so much, a place where history is so omnipresent you can practically talk to it. Whenever I go to any historical site, irrelevant of age or location, I am overtaken by the wish to be transported into the time at which that site was thriving. The fact that this wish is and shall always remain impossible to grant only strengthens my desire to be able to do so... it's a vicious cycle.
I've always said if I could have one superpower, it would be the ability to time travel. This story is not about an individual who can travel through time, but rather someone who has lived so long they have living memory of history through the ages. He experiences the things firsthand I dream of, and comments on them as someone living in the modern world. Essentially, he is living my actual dream... I was always going to love this story. Having lived in London, I cannot tell you how many times I walked along the South Bank past the reconstructed Globe and yearned to see it in Shakespearean times, at its peak. In How to Stop Time, Tom actually does this. He meets F. Scott Fitzgerald in Jazz Age Paris. He sails on one of the ships which discovered "the new world." I know I can read about it in history books and see it in paintings, but there is something about experiencing it in this way which I just bloody loved.
The second reason I enjoyed it so much is because I am a chronic over-thinker. Just ask my long-suffering boyfriend who always falls victims to my random out-loud thought processes (he's a saint among men). I don't mean small talk-type thoughts either, I am talking the Big Questions. I can’t help it, I don't know why, I just do it. While some people undoubtedly questions such things more than others, admit it... we're all guilty. We have all wondered what the meaning of life is. How to make the most of our lives. How to maximise on the time we have while we have it.
If we all have these thoughts, it is natural to imagine someone who is on the earth a great deal longer than the average person has these thoughts tenfold. The beautiful thing is, Matt Haig doesn't only pose the questions we all ponder in his novel, he takes a pretty admirable stab at answering them too, and the results are as uplifting as they are beautiful. If you're a dreamer, a thinker, a constant questioner, I suspect you'll like this book as much as I did. Either way, if you do read it, I'd LOVE to know your thoughts!