• Sarah Mullaney

Mental health meets magical fiction: How To Stop Time book review

Ever imagined what it would be like to be alive for centuries? For Tom Hazard – it’s all he’s ever known.

You see, he may look like an ordinary 41 year old, but he’s actually been alive since the year 1581. He’s travelled all over the world and seen it change, crossing paths with key historical figures including the likes of Sir William Shakespeare. But now, working as a history teacher in London, his condition has become a dull reality, and he craves an ordinary life.

His struggle is understandable. The Albatros Society (made up of other people like him) controls him like a puppet, making him change his identity every eight years in order to stay alive. And, under no circumstances, must he ever fall in love.

How To Stop Time is a heart-warming and thought provoking novel about how it can take a lifetime to truly learn how to live. It’s simultaneously heartbreaking, dealing with such raw and painful emotions, as it is wonderfully uplifting and inspiring.

It would appear there’s no ends to Haig’s romantic and vivid imagination, and the seamless transitions between the past and the present day are a tribute to his skills as a storyteller.

From the lively market streets of Elizabethan England, to the glitz and glam of the Parisian jazz bar where Tom met F Scott Fitzgerald, Haig’s use of historic details engulfs the senses, fully immersing you in previous centuries. My favourite part of the novel was the blossoming love story between Tom and Rose in the late 1500s. No word of a lie, it made my heart burst and I absolutely adored this extract:

And she placed the lute beside her on the bed and kissed me and I closed my eyes and the rest of the world faded. There was nothing else. Nothing but her. She was the stars and the heavens and the oceans.

SWOON. Heart officially burst.

However, Haig doesn’t gloss over the painful details that Tom saw first-hand either. The witch hunts. The plague. The wars. There’s no denying it, they were important chapters of history and, rightly so, they feature heavily in the book. Difficult reading at times? Yep, but all vital to Tom’s story.

Ah Tom. I love his character and I think you will too. Haig writes in a way that makes you root for Tom from the very first page, somehow allowing us to empathise about a condition that we will never be able to experience.

But, like every fictional character, Tom has his downsides. Constantly worrying about the past and future, the inability to see what’s right in front of him, the fear of letting anyone get even slightly close to him. Personality traits that can all be experienced by someone with a mental illness. When I went through depression, I experienced similar feelings to Tom, and I find it so refreshing that Haig is spreading awareness through How To Stop Time. It’s the perfect book to give those who haven’t suffered an insight into mental illness.

Haig gets the complexity of human emotions. The light and dark. The intensity of the dark, how it can seem so overbearing that living with it becomes normal. But then when the light comes, you need to hold on to it, savour it, seek out – because those are the moments worth living for.

Honestly, explaining to someone about your mental health issues is the hardest thing in the world, and to me, this book beautifully tells the tale of someone riddled with anxiety and depression, exactly how he feels and exactly how he comes over it.

When I say Haig gets it, I mean he gets it. Mental health – the inexplicable pain of feeling like you’re stuck in your own body. But also, the freedom of learning to let go of your struggles – the weight off your shoulders you never knew you had. I think that can be proven in my favourite quote towards the end of the book:

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 would 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?

How To Stop Time has inspired me and I would love to know the books that inspire you. What would you recommend?