I’m sure that How To Stop Time by Matt Haig showed up on my lengthy book list because there was something in it about meeting Shakespeare. I will almost always check those leads out at some point or another, even though I’ve been burned before. I’m looking at you, Neal Stephenson…
So I’m happy to report that this is a good one. Not just because of the Shakespeare content, of which there is more than a little, but because it’s also a good book by itself.
The premise feels like it’s been done before, but I can’t quite put my finger on a specific example. Our narrator ages….very…..slowly. He’s not immortal. He’s not a vampire. He just ages about 1/15th the pace of everybody else. He’s part of a society of such people known as “albatrosses” who live almost a thousand years.
What do you do with your time when you live for a thousand years? Mostly you go looking for other people like you. You try not to let yourself “anchor” by falling in love with a “mayfly” – a regular human whose lifespan will be trivial compared to yours. Much like Forrest Gump, you find yourself witnessing historical events firsthand. Much like Groundhog Day, you occupy your free time learning how to do, well, basically anything you want.
But there are downsides, too. The human brain is not made to hold a thousand years of memories, so the older you get, the greater the odds of losing your mind (first come the headaches, then comes the blurting out of things you’re supposed to keep secret, then the trip the asylum…) Worse, you live in constant fear of anyone – including those you love – of finding out your secret. Whether it’s seventeenth-century witchfinders or nineteenth-century “scientists”, your existence is something they wish to see come to an end.
I suppose I should mention Shakespeare after all that. Our narrator does spend some time not just in Elizabethan England, but literally in Shakespeare’s company. Shakespeare is a character (as are Kemp and Burbage), and not just at the edge – he plays a role in the plot (granted, not a large one). A significant part of the early takes place in and around the Globe where we’re treating to the sights, sounds, and smells of our favorite era.
I’m also happy to learn that a movie is in the works – starring Benedict Cumberbatch!
Glad I got around to this one. Definitely recommended.