How to Stop Time (Haig)

How to Stop Time 
Matt Haig, 2018
Penguin Publishing
336 pp.

"The first rule is that you don’t fall in love," he said… "There are other rules too, but that is the main one. No falling in love. No staying in love. No daydreaming of love. If you stick to this you will just about be okay."

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 his 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 and romance, the one thing he can't have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

How to Stop Time tells 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. It is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—July 3, 1975
Where—Sheffield, Yorkshire, UK
Education—B.A., University of Hull; M.A., Leeds University
Currently—lives in Brighton, England

Matt Haig is a British novelist and journalist, writing both fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, often in the speculative fiction genre. He was born in Sheffield and studied English and history at the University of Hull.

His novels are often dark and quirky takes on family life. The Last Family in England (2004) retells Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 with the protagonists as dogs. His second novel Dead Fathers Club (2006) is based on Hamlet, telling the story of an introspective 11-year-old dealing with the recent death of his father and appearance of his father's ghost.

His third adult novel, The Possession of Mr Cave (2008), deals with an obsessive father desperately trying to keep his teenage daughter safe. Shadow Forest (2007), a children's novel, is a fantasy that begins with the horrific death of the protagonists' parents. It won the Nestle Children's Book Prize in 2007. A year later, he followed it with a sequel, Runaway Troll (2008).

The Radleys (2011) is a domestic drama about a family of vampires, and The Humans (2013) is the story of an alien posing as a university lecturer whose work in mathematics threatens the stability of the planet. In How to Stop Time (2018), a man who appears to be 40 years old is, in fact, more than 400 years old. The film adaption is scheduled to star Benedict Cumberland.

At the age of 24, Haig suffered from severe depression, which he wrote about in his memoir Reasons to Stay Alive (2015). The book was a number one Sunday Times (London) bestseller and was in the UK top 10 for 46 weeks.

Personal life
Haig resides in Brighton, England, with his wife Andrea Semple. He homeschools their two children. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/13/2018.)

Book Reviews
Haig's novel is a treasure a storehouse of wry humor, historical information, and philosophical insights. Haig examines the consolation of music and the necessity of human connection. He ponders the very things that make life meaningful—along with love, one of them turns out to be, of all things, our own gloriously short lifespan. Highly recommended. READ MORE …
P.J. Adler - LitLovers

Haig has phenomenal range: he has turned his versatile talent to everything from children’s literature to young adult vampire novels to the hard-won wisdom of his bestselling memoir of depression, Reasons to Stay Alive.… How to Stop Time is written in a different, more minor key. It is plangent. It has designs on our heartstrings.… [Nonetheless,] the energy and zip of this book are hard to resist.
Hermione Eyre - Guardian

A quirky romcom dusted with philosophical observations…. A delightfully witty…poignant novel.
Washington Post

Haig’s novel offers a wry, intriguing meditation on time and an eternal human challenge: how to relinquish the past and live fully in the present.

[E]nthralling…Haig follows his protagonist through the Renaissance up to “now,” when Tom works as a history teacher in London.… His persistence through the centuries shows us that the quality of time matters more than the quantity lived.
Publishers Weekly

[A] marvel of invention—it is seamlessly presented, telling an absolutely compelling story. It examines large issues…but in an engagingly thought-provoking, compulsively readable way. It is, in every way, a triumph not to be missed. —Michael Cart

Haig skillfully enlivens Tom's history with spare, well-chosen detail, making much of the book transporting. An engaging story framed by a brooding meditation on time and meaning.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for HOW TO STOP TIME … then take off on your own:

1. How does Tom Hazard feel about his life as an Albatross? What does he see as the draw-backs of great longevity? Would you want the kind of lifespan the Albas have? Let's say you were an Alba, how would you want to live your life, especially given the no-falling-in-love rule and the secrecy rule?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: Tom thinks that being an Alba isn't anything special:

We weren't superheroes. We were just old … always living within the parameters of [our] personality. No expanse of time or space could change that. You could never escape yourself. (p.12)

What does Tom mean? Why does he want to escape himself? Is it possible to escape ourselves?

3. During his job interview with Daphne, Tom explains his view of history: "History isn't something you need to bring to life. History already is alive. We are history.… History is everywhere" (p. 17). What is history to you? Was it a favorite or despised subject for you in school? What about today?

4. Follow-up to Question 3: Other than what he tells Daphne during his interview, how is Tom's view of history different from the way we "mayflies" see it? He has seen a lot of it roll by. Is he optimistic or pessimistic about history and humankind's role in its events? Consider George Santayana's famous warning: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" (p. 320).

5. On his first trip to America, Tom considers the (at that time) modern ocean liner and thinks that humans measure progress as "the distance we placed between ourselves and nature (p. 83). It seems a rather cynical definition. Or maybe it's simply unsentimental. What do you think? How do you define progress.

6. Tom attends a live performance of Tchaikovsky directing one of his orchestral pieces. What consolations does music offer Tom, not just symphonic music but all music? What are the things you turn to in your own life for consolation?

7. Follow-up to Question 6: At the concert in Carnegie Hall, Hendrich points out Andrew Carnegie in the balcony. Despite all his wealth, with music halls and libraries carrying his name, Hendrich scoffs at Carnegie. He says to Tom, "Legacy. What a meaningless thing" (p. 98). What does Hendrich mean, and why does one's name after death count for nothing in his eyes? Do you agree? Is legacy merely a stab at achieving immortality? Does legacy have significance? Or is it ultimately meaningless?

8. In one of his peregrinations through present-day London, Tom views young people in a gym on treadmills, plugged in to headphones, watching TV, or checking email.

Places don't matter to people anymore. Places aren't the point. People are only ever half present where they are these days. They always have at least one foot in the great digital nowhere. (p. 109)

What do you make of his observation? Is there truth to it? Before you answer, consider his observation in the context of Question 2, i.e., Tom's despair about being unable to escape himself.

9. Why did Tom enjoy his life during the Jazz Age? In hindsight, how does he see the era as a prelude to fascism and World War II? He talks about the rise of "bully-boy leaders" and scapegoats and cults; then he adds, "It happened every now and then" (p. 205). Do you sense any parallels to our current age?

10. Of the historical personages Tom has met, eras he has lived through, and events he has witnessed, who or what do you find most interesting or engaging or disturbing?

11. Hendrich says he does only "what is necessary." He has saved Flora Brown, Reginald Fisher, and others. Tom continues to work for the Society because, despite its flaws, he believes that ultimately it's the good work that matters. Discounting the end of the novel, do you agree with Tom at this point: is it possible to overlook the evil and concentrate on the good, especially if it saves lives? In other words, does the good outweigh the bad?

12. On the flight to Australia, Tom wonders if his love for Camilla is a different kind of love from the love he had for Rose. What do you think? Are there different ways to be "in love"? Isn't all "romantic" love fundamentally the same?

13. Omai tells Tom about his seven years with Hoku, saying those years "contained more than anything else." Then he goes on to talk about time:

That's the thing with time isn't it? It's not all the same. Some days—some years—some decades—are empty. There is nothing to them. It's just flat water. Then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing. (p. 296)

Have you ever had the sense that the duration of time varies—that some days go faster and others more slowly, or that some periods of time have greater import or a stronger claim on your memory than others?

14. Omai also talks about love:

You cannot simply fall in love and and not think there is something bigger ruling us. Something not quite us … that lives inside of us … ready to help or fuck us over. (p. 297)

What does Omai mean?

15. Why does Omai reject the Albatross Society and its protection?

16. Once back from Australia, Tom types an email to the biotech company investigating cellular damage in illnesses and ageing. He gives his age and writes that he might be able to help wth research. He saves it as a draft, but we never know whether he sends it. Should he?

17. What is your prediction for Tom and Camilla? Has it struck you, by the way, that the two women loved by Tom are named for flowers. (There's … a … symbol … there …)

18. What is the significance of the title, "How to Stop Time"? Some of the characters talk about stopping time, though for different reasons: mayflies because it goes by too quickly, Tom because he's had too much of it. Nonetheless, the title is "how" to stop it. What does Tom realize by the novel's end?

19. Follow-up to Question 18: In one of the most beautiful passages of the book, on page 314, Tom considers how he wishes to live his life: without fear of hurt or loneliness, without looking forever toward the future but living in the here and now. Read the passage aloud in your book group, and consider how each of you wishes to live your own life. Are you in accordance with Tom's wishes? Would you add anything to his list … or leave anything out?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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