[Review] How to Stop Time – A Moving Look at Time and Happiness

How to Stop Time
Title:
How to Stop Time
Author: Matt Haig
Publisher: Harper Avenue
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Sci-fi, Contemporary
Page Count: 336 pages
Goodreads

Rating: 7.5/10

 

 

 

 

I think every one of us has, at one point or another, wished our lives were longer. That we could take the distance between one moment to the next and give it a nice, long pull. And when you think of your time in this world not in terms of decades, but hundreds, maybe even thousands, the possibilities can seem endless. You can witness hundreds of years of technological advances. Scour every corner of the globe for its natural and human wonders. Read and watch and play every piece of creative media out there. Sink yourself into your passions without the threat of a ticking clock looming over your head.

Well, Matt Haig has heard your musings and replied with an old, but sensible, adage: Be careful what you wish for.

Tom Hazard is weary. Living for hundreds of years is not sexy or liberating; it becomes the same pattern repeated over and over. His life has been a long stretch of loneliness punctuated by moments of happiness, then grief and hardships, and stretches and
stretches of gray nothingness. Now he just feels lost. Lost in the maelstrom of identities he had worn over the years.

Tom’s elongated life span is not presented as a curse or a feat of magic, but rather a very unique medical condition, which I found refreshingly different from other stories with similar premises–he’s not cursed or chosen, he just is. Those with the condition are known collectively as “albas,” named after albatrosses that were once thought, mistakenly, to live a very long time. Their secrets and identities are protected with the help of the Albatross Society (which is kind of like a union), founded by a man called Hendrich.

Hendrich is an interesting figure. I found him manipulative, arrogant, and divisive. He says the right things, in a long, winding, charming kind of way, but there’s something hollow about it all. And I love that sense of wrongness in a character. Unfortunately, I found all the other side characters, especially Camille (Tom’s love-interest-to-be) and the famous historical figures Tom encounters, lacking. Though they intrigued me, I felt like there were many more layers to them that we never got a chance to uncover, and that’s a bit of a shame.

The chapters alternates between flashbacks to Tom’s earlier years–from medieval England to the Roaring Twenties–and the present. A simple but introspective prose makes it very easy to empathize with the main character and I quite loved his sense of humour. It’s not the laugh-out-loud kind, but a wry, quiet one that threads through the narrative with ease.

One of the most notable things about the book is that it’s chock full of quotable lines. Ones you would frame and plaster all over your walls. Matt Haig has a talent for expressing sentiments that should feel trite and annoying but end up being very moving. There’s such an unabashed honesty to his writing that I couldn’t help but love.

7.0 was the review score that was hovering in my mind when I was about a chapter away from the end. Despite the lovely writing, I couldn’t deny that the book had its share of flaws–a somewhat disappointing plot, a climax that felt rushed, and characters that felt unfulfilled.

But then I encountered this passage:

And just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Who would I care for? What battle would I fight? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve? How, in short, would I live?

This paragraph knocked me breathless and frozen for what seemed like eternity. I imagined myself doing this–unshackling myself from all my fears and doubts and hurts–and the possibilities that I glimpsed sent chills down my spine and tears to my eyes. Like the rest of the book, there’s a simplicity to the words. But the best truths are the simplest ones that you scorned in favour of the cool and flashy kinds. And I realized that’s what makes this book so special. Matt Haig overturns the recesses of the human mind and shines a light on things that we all know peripherally but have never fully examined. One powerful paragraph can’t erase all the criticisms I have, but it can damn well mute them.

The blurb makes the book sound like a romcom with a scifi bent, but that’s a shallow–and frankly, wrong–interpretation; those expecting a wild, passionate romance between Tom and Camille will be disappointed (their relationship doesn’t even kindle until near the end). The story is rather more about one man’s journey to find himself. And this man is you and me–all of us living in a world that feels alien and terrifying. This is a story about life and how we choose to live it, whether we have five or fifty or five hundred years ahead of us.

How to Stop Time is a prime example of a comfort book. One that gently dares you to rise above your fears and take a chance, and just see what happens.

I think this is one that I will end up revisiting many times in the future.

~
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Most Anticipated Scifi & Fantasy: Feb-April 2018

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2018 has some incredible books coming out, and since I can’t narrow the list down to a reasonable number (and since you don’t want to spend days scrolling through a blog post), I’m dividing them into chunks! Three months per genre, starting with Scifi and Fantasy. And yes, I’m lumping them into one.

FEBRUARY

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

The Armored Saint
First of a trilogy, The Armored Saint is Myke Cole’s first foray into epic fantasy. I haven’t had a chance to read his Shadow Ops series, but I’ve heard many good things about it, so I figure this would be a good introduction to his writing.

The story features Heloise, a young village girl fighting oppression in a land of machines and magic. It sounds dark, gritty, and the themes are right up alley.

Releases February 20th

MARCH

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone

This YA fantasy debut has been receiving early accolatdes left and right, and no wonder. The cover is phenomenal, the worldbuilding sounds complex, and it’s already been nabbed by Fox for movie development. It’s yet another story revolving around oppression and revolution.

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Releases March 6th

Imposter Syndrome by Mishell Baker

Imposter Syndrome
Borderlines, the first book in The Arcadia Project series, is one of my favourite urban fantasy books and it introduced me to Millie Roper, who is, hands down, my favourite urban fantasy protagonist ever. Mishell Baker draws from her own experiences and seamlessly incorporates Millie’s BPD and disability into the story without letting it define her character. She’s clever, funny, and when she fucks up, she really fucks up.

I can’t wait to read more of her.

Releases March 13th

Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick

Master AssassinsIt’s been blurbed by Pat Rothfuss and given a rave review by Mark Lawrence–what more can I say? The generic title belies a summary that’s chock full of excitement and teases a dark adventure in a non-medieval setting. Most importantly, it promises something that I want to see more of in epic fantasy: sibling relationships. Plus, the cover features a saber cat and a lady whose arm appears to be on fire, which is always a cool combination.

Releases March 20th

 

Torn by Rowenna Miller

Torn
The first of the Unraveled Kingdom Series, Torn proposes a protagonist with a unique talent: magical dressmaking. I’m always on the lookout for fantasy stories that feature women in traditionally “domestic” roles, so this caught my eye immediately. Plus, it seems to have a bit of everything I love: revolutions, political intrigue, fancy balls, and romance.

Releases March 20th

 

Anna Undreaming by Thomas Welsh

Anna UndreamingAnna Undreaming is the first of the Metiks Fade trilogy. It’s an urban fantasy with a super fascinating premise–artists who can literally create new realities.

[Anna] finds herself hunted by Dreamers—artists, both good and evil, who construct new worlds—within a complex community that threatens to undermine reality itself. When Anna learns that she’s an Undreamer with powers she cannot yet comprehend, she must travel through their strange and treacherous creations to discover that there’s as much beauty in life as there is darkness. As her existence spirals into wonder and danger, Anna must look deep within herself and face the horrors of her own past, to save her old world as well as her new one.

Releases March 20th

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

The Queens of INnis Lear
Three Queens. One crown. All out war.

Tessa Gratton’s adult debut is a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear with a feminist bent.

I’m very interested to see what changes, if any, are made to the original plot, and how the fantasy elements are woven in.

Releases March 27th

 

APRIL

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Ssiter

I swear Mark Lawrence gets better with every book he writes. Red Sister was his best one yet, full of intricate magics, violence, and exploration of female relationships, all woven with lush prose.

If he continues on in this trend, I have no doubt Grey Sister will be my new favourite Lawrence book.

Releases April 3rd

 

 

Space Opera by Catherynne Valente

Space Opera

Catherynne Valente has a talent for weaving magic and poetry into the strangest concepts. And Space Opera looks to be the strangest of them all:

Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.

It’s basically Eurovision in space. And I am not missing that for anything.

Releases April 3rd

Fire Dance by Ilana C. Meyer

Fire Dance
I sound like a broken record at this point, BUT JUST LOOK AT THIS COVER. It’s probably my favourite of the batch, which says a lot. Ilana Meyer’s debut, Last Song Before Night, was one of my top ten reads of 2015, and if this book is anything like the first, the quality of the cover will be a direct reflection of the content. Meyer has a deft hand for character development and atmospheric worldbuilding, and Fire Dance looks to continue Lin’s tale from where the first left off.

Though it’s technically a standalone, I highly recommend reading the first beforehand.

Releases April 10th

 From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

From Unseen Fire.jpg

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

There are three more paragraphs to the summary, and I get stupidly excited every time I read through them. Set to be the first in the Aven Cycle, From Unseen Fire is a mesh of alternate history and fantasy that I needed yesterday.

Releases April 17th

Time Was by Ian McDonald

Time Was

In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers. Brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar, the two founded a love that could not be revealed. When the project went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presumed dead. Their bodies were never found.

Now the two are lost in time, hunting each other across decades, leaving clues in books of poetry and trying to make their desperate timelines overlap.

Yet another blend of history and SFF, I’m intrigued by the unique concept and its potential to break my heart in two.

Releases April 24th