Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Book Review: How To Stop Time by Matt Haig



Okay so when it comes to books, I am the biggest critic you will find. I want to read a book that's going to make me gasp or laugh or cry when I read it. Don't we all? Don't we read to feel something that we don't necessarily get to feel ourselves? To experience another life and put ourselves into somebody else's shoes? Those shoes might not always be exciting or happy, but we should feel something.


Well more than anything with How To Stop Time I just felt disappointed. After an extremely long journey to the finish line, I found myself re-envisioning not just the ending but several different parts of it. It's bloody frustrating when something like this happens. Give me an ending that makes me want to pull my hair out or scream, but when I turn the final page and I just feel... deflated? Well, that's a huge problem. 

I went into this with such high expectations. How To Stop Time claims to be about a man who has a rare condition that stops him from ageing. He's travelled for decades, changing his identity and leaving behind the people he loves to start a new life, undetected. I picked this up because I think it's such a great concept and because it spoke to my inner 15 year old self, who loved a bit of vampire fiction. But this felt a lot more mature. It wasn't about a vampire and it wasn't about a 17 year old at high school. It was a grown man, with a condition, navigating the tropes of everyday life. 

Or so I thought. Most of the book was dull and lifeless. There is only one scene I really enjoyed and that was when the main character (whose name I have genuinely forgotten) met F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. I find the whole roaring twenties period so incredibly alluring. Lots of diamonds and sparkle, it's such a seductive era. So naturally, I love, love, love everything about that scene. In fact, it was so well executed that I knew we were talking to Fitzgerald and Zelda almost immediately. The only thing I wish desperately for, is that we got more of it. Disappointingly, the scene only lasted about a two pages at most.  

However, meeting Shakespeare? I mean, god, that was absolutely awful. I felt embarrassed reading it! There was just something so amateur about the way that Shakespeare was portrayed. He wasn't quite humanised and I think that's where the problem was. Haig attempts to grant his main character's account of Shakespearean days authenticity, in the fact that he was actually there. Yet it just feels like a secondary school creative writing task gone horribly wrong. Firstly, he makes it all about the plays! Shakespeare is already known for his plays, so if he was really going to show us what the real Shakespeare was like then maybe he should have shown us another side. It felt as if Haig had plucked these scenes from a shared imagination. I mean, if I think about meeting Shakespeare, I certainly think immediately of the theatre, musicians and someone who inspired awe in a lot of people. If I were to put my writer's hat on and create something where a character actually met him, I would have shown a completely different side to this. I suppose I was just craving something more carefully thought out and unique. 

Flashbacks aside, as there were way too many to keep track of, this story was just not believable. Tom Hazard (I've remembered his name now!) has been alive for centuries right? And he's met all of these people like Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald as I just mentioned. And he's seen the beginning or the workings of every invention. But why? Just because he was alive then, why does that mean he automatically met everyone who was famous and witnessed everything that was significant in the making of history? I mean, I've been alive for the past 22 years but I haven't danced with Taylor Swift or had a drink with Donald Trump have I?!

This story leads you to believe that there is a plot. And maybe, in the sense that stories are always there just waiting to be written, there is one. But it certainly wasn't written by Matt Haig because absolutely nothing happens. Tom is still distraught about the loss of his wife and his missing daughter. I mean, he just mopes about all the time willing himself not to fall in love and walking his dog. And this just repeats itself in a tormenting cycle that almost forces you not to finish the book.

And then when you do finish the book, in what I'm assuming Haig thinks is a jolting end, you just flick back to the beginning and find yourself wondering what the point of everything you just read even was. Tom Hazard's story was just not a story that needed to be told. His voice is not engaging, his story will push you away rather than draw you in and the story as a whole is deeply unmoving.  
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