How to Stop Time

Written by Matt Haig
Review by Edward James

This is a book about time travel, but not travel back in time. The hero, known in the present as Tom Hazard, travels through time in the same way as we all do, from the past to the future, except that he spends longer at it. When the story opens, he is aged 437 and teaching history (what else?) at a north London school. He has a rare but not unique condition which causes him to age at a much slower rate than other humans. He keeps this secret, partly for fear of being considered insane, or in earlier times possessed of the Devil, and partly because he has been sworn to secrecy by a covert society of fellow ‘sufferers’ who call themselves Albatrosses, or Albas, and who eliminate those who break cover. To conceal themselves, Albas must take on a new identity every eight years.

This gives the author scope for a series of vignettes of life in Tudor London, 18th-century Tahiti, 1920s Paris and other times and places, including 21st-century Hackney. Mostly these are disconnected episodes, although there is an underlying theme as Tom struggles to free himself from the Albas and ‘out’ himself, spurred on by a love affair with a fellow teacher. I am not sure that I understand Tom’s musings on the Meaning of Life and the nature of time, but this is a very entertaining novel, and we meet Will Shakespeare, Captain Cook and many other characters whom we do not usually encounter in the same book.