I’ve read Matt Haig’s work before, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I hate to sound like practically every other person in the bookish community; but The Humans was a really good book. I’ve not read all of Haig’s other work, but I’ve read enough that I got excited to get hold of and read How to Stop Time.
That excitement wasn’t fully realised upon reading it though. I liked it, but I just didn’t love it. It was an easy read, and ultimately quite likeable, but just not a satisfying read. I’d rate it as probably the worst of his book (of the ones I’ve read) – now that’s not me slagging it and saying it’s a bad book, but one of his books has to be the ‘worst of the group’ and How to Stop Time takes that title for me.
The premise of someone not ageing at the same rate as the majority of humanity is a good premise, if not that much of an original one, but I just think it was handled poorly for the majority of the book. It fell flat compared to other things going on (which I’ll get into later) and almost became a secondary or even tertiary part of the story, despite the premise promising – and many readers wanting it to be the primary. Ultimately, the whole story, and as a result the premise itself, felt a bit…*shrug* meh.
The first half was much stronger than the second and was a far more enjoyable read. This is likely because the intrigue was fresh as we’re trying to piece together the how’s, what’s and why’s of the story and everything was new to us as readers. But unfortunately this quickly wore off and was replaced with repetition and over-written sentences.
“And I felt the horror of her horror. That, I suppose, is a price we pay for love: the absorbing of another’s pain as if our own.”
Speaking of the writing, whilst it’s poignant and beautiful at times, it’s also flowery, repetitive and excessive in others. There are times where it’s almost pretentious, which got a bit annoying, because I couldn’t quite hate it, but it didn’t sit right with me either. As I’ve said the wiring is quite repetitive, and in fact a lot of the book it. I understand that the plot jumps back and forth in time but it doesn’t have a slight tendency of going round and round in places.
There’s a very high page count for what ends up to be very little story in the end. I ended up finishing it and thinking, “Was that it? What was the point?”. And it’s not like the nuances were lost on me – I think this book thinks it’s subtle in its messages and meanings, but it’s not. It borders on cliché at times.
Speaking of cliché, on to the characters. Tom, our main character, seems to only be able to feel one emotion: depression. Now don’t get me wrong, the idea of living for 400 years sounds like hell to me, but I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t spend my existence moping around about it. Tom spends 80% of the book being bummed out, and it got old (no pun intended) really quickly. Did he have a reason to be sad at times? You know, the lonely nights where your brain can’t seem to focus on anything good in your life – yeah, of course he did– after all he has a tragic backstory. But Jesus Christ, 400 years is a long time to be moping over an ex-girlfriend.
His daughter wasn’t much better either, another example of a one-emotion character. And when will authors get it into their heads that visuals don’t effect personality?! Just because Marion looks like she’s been kicked through Hot Topic doesn’t make her an edgy character for fucks sake. Honestly, for a supposed emotional book, it hasn’t got a lot of emotional depth.
“I am not scared for myself. I will not truly be alive without you. I will be a ghost that breathes.”
It’s a shame that I saw the ‘plot twist’ coming from a mile off, it made for a very flat ending. It all just seemed a bit rushed and bit convenient. So did the condition that our dear protagonist has too. Tom (and a handful of other characters) age at a rate of approximately 1 year to 15, but this condition doesn’t seem to kick in until puberty. For me, it felt a bit like a lazy ‘easy out’ so that Haig didn’t have to put too much thought behind the process and could actually have these people existing in the first place. What I mean by this is that, if the history of both the book and real life is anything to go by, in the olden days, a baby that stays a baby for 15 years would have been burned, drowned or killed in some other way for being a witch or a demon or some stupid shit like that hat people in those days believed in. But as this condition only seems to happen in puberty, it gives Haig a reason to have the characters escape their potential fate by running away or figuring out a way to survive.
The best way I can think to sum this book up is: existential crisis meets teenage angst on steroids. For me, this isn’t my thing, but I seem to be in the minority.
How to Stop Time isn’t a ‘bad’ book, it’s just easily forgettable and not Haig’s best work, which is a real shame.
“It was depressing that he found it so much easier to question his sanity than my reality.”
[PLEASE NOTE]: I was not paid or sponsored to write this review – all the opinions are honest and my own.