David Lloyd Book Club reviews: March

HOW TO STOP TIME by Matt Haig.

The group chose this book as the second book to discuss and we were not wrong to do so. It prompted a great deal of thoughtful discussion which went on for almost 2 hours. I didn’t get the author to join us this time, as he’s quite busy, but Matt Haig does have some interesting input on his book, which I will mention. The group was a large one, with two new members. Even though they had not had a chance to read this months book, the nature of the discussion allowed them to participate fully with their ideas about the themes we were discussing.

I put it to them that it was a time travel book, but without the ‘time travelling’ element in that the protagonist, Tom Hazard (the irony of the name did not escape us) ages very very slowly. In fact he has lived since the 15th century and still only looks 41. He has the opposite of the real condition, progeria, where the suffered ages too fast. His condition is fictional, but it is on the borderlines of being scientifically convincing enough to buy into the idea that maybe this condition exists. Who knows, maybe I am over 400 years old…

The group enjoyed the historical element – Tom has hung out with the Fitzgeralds, Shakespeare and played piano for Josephine Baker. We also loved the fascinating examination of all the changes he had seen, from his mother being hounded and killed as a witch to developments in medicine which could now save people he had watched die. What he learns is that ‘Humans don’t learn from history’

The story centres around his search for his daughter, who also has the condition, and the love and loss of his wife, who died of the plague. Some critics are frustrated that he still feels grief, but most of our group found that pretty convincing. Love is love whether it is 4 or 400 years old. There is also a great sub-plot involving a conspiracy and the bond villainesque Hendrich. Hendrich has set up a society of Albas (from Albatross, a bird thought to live a long life) which helps people with the condition, keeping it secret and them safe. The rest of the human race are mere ‘mayflies‘. Hendrich seems to be a bit of a Van Helsing to Tom Hazard’s tragic Dracula figure. However, Hendrich, we decided, was simply a little man who wanted a bit of control. He tells them ‘don’t fall in love’. Now, I can understand the fear you might have if you had the condition – humans have never really stopped witch-hunting anyone or anything different. However, in the end, the message is clear: just live for the moment and never be afraid to love. For me, Hendrich has parallels with a ‘God’ figure, or simply symbolises ‘societal norms’. He sets black and white rules in a world which is human, and painted in so many different shades and colours. In the end, being able to break free of those rules sets Tom free.

One question I posed were whether it was a blessing or curse to have such a long life. On balance, watching everybody you know die over centuries is probably a curse.

We had one voice of dissent – which is good, because we all seemed to love this book and a bit of a mixed opinion is always interesting. In general one of the group did not find the character very likeable and at times the pace could be a bit slow for them. There were several questions left unanswered at the end of the story, although maybe it’s a good thing to fill in the blanks…

It’s a fascinating premise and I personally could not put it down. I also liked The Midnight Library by the same author. The smallest details, like comparing things from the Tudor times to things we have today made me very happy, especially as I time travel to a certain extent myself – I am playing two historical characters next month.

Haig states that his own experiences with mental health have undoubtedly contributed to this book. I can certainly see that. Tom Hazard has an invisible condition. He feels isolated, like an outsider. He cannot relate to his peer group, whoever they might be. I relate to all of that.

It’s going to be made into a film and it looks like Benedict Cumberbatch is going to play the part of Tom. I can see how that will work well – he will bring interesting layers of depth to the portrayal and will probably draw on his Frankenstein work to find this character. I borrow from traits of other characters to create a role, and also consider an animal the character might be like to add to the characters physicality. I did consider who might play this part, as I always do when I read a book and he was in my mind, as was Matt Smith, who has a similarly hard-to-define face in terms of age. A youngish Tom Hanks would also have been perfect. I sense that Tom Hazard is a bit ‘otherworldly’ but also fairly down-to earth. Antony Hopkins would have made a good Hendrich in his Hannibal Lector era. Oh dear. I like playing this game too much!

Speaking of Cumberbatch, the next book was also made into a film he starred in. It’s the amazing The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage and the next meeting is Wednesday April 19th (in between my performances and a short break to see a Vivaldi and Bach concert in London – Phew am I going to be tired) This powerful book takes you by surprise long after you have finished it and is reminiscent of Steinbeck’s East of Eden in some ways. I urge you to give it a try. Members – it’s now at the front desk but let me know if you have one by other means.

See you all soon, and feel free to weigh in on the discussion either on the David Lloyd app social section which links you to the book club page, or my Ipswich Facebook ‘David Lloyd Book Club’ page.

See you in April!

Virginia. x

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