“History was, is, a one-way street. You have to keep walking forwards, but you don't always need to look ahead. Sometimes you can just look around and be happy right where you are.” ― Matt Haig, How to Stop Time
This was just released this week in the US, and I snagged myself a copy after seeing that the library waitlist would take up one of my hold spots for ages. I made a big mistake whilst waiting in the line to pay for it: I started reading. (You see, I have library books out and ARCs to review...) I have never been so impatient on a ride home. I really wanted to read this book. I got home, kicked off my shoes and hopped absurdly around until I got into PJs -- all the while reading, or at least trying to read. Once I'd wrangled myself into comfy clothes, I read straight through the night.
Why? I wish I knew. It's not that the story is a crazed page turner. It's more that the protagonist, Tom Hazard, is the most lovely and poignant man I've read in a while. I fell in love with this guy. Tom has a condition that makes him grow old veeeerrrrrry slowly. He is broken-hearted after losing his wife and child and has decided never to get close to anyone again, lest he hurt them or get hurt himself again. All he wants is his child, wife and to be a teacher. He needs to keep moving at least once every eight years, not lay down roots, not allow his picture to be taken, make connections to nobody and certainly not tell his secret. Because of this, he -- not unreasonably -- feels exceedingly unique and alone. He's miserable and self-protective all while he just keeps living. It's a lot like a deep depression that goes on for more than 400 years.
Matt Haig describes the human experience so beautifully, I couldn't wait see what philosophical "pow" was on the next page. I stopped and read many parts aloud simply because they felt so terrible and wonderful and true all at the same time. The whole book is basically about how to navigate the pain of human existence. Along the way we meet Shakespeare, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, other luminaries; we see historical events and watch the map get larger and more detailed, the industrial revolution, the jazz and internet ages; we watch the "New World" come to life, go from Tombstone to Trump.
All of this comes via Tom with his aching pain, isolation, the absurdity of his own existence, intense love, fear of loving or hurting those he loves, and his withdrawal from other people...all while he keeps trudging through century after century (with extremely modern viewpoints.) Tom's a music lover and a reader. So we get insight on those things, nature, some very quotable bits on everything from plastic surgery to toilets, facebook, the theory of relativity... "Change is just what life is. It is the only constant I know."
Lest that all sound boring, which it does to me (good thing I don't write books!) there's also a mysterious "helper" who doesn't seem so great, a dark and shadowy organization of "albas," daring rescues and hit jobs along the way, danger and romance.
But the real story here is how, even when someone is completely extraordinary in some ways, we're all still human, complete with all the foibles that come with that situation. So while this is a sweeping historical novel in some ways, a romance in some ways, a mystery, a comedic tour-de-force, it's perhaps the most existential book I've read in a very long time, and it's worth a read with a notebook nearby so you can write down all the quotes I haven't added yet.