Books

Still More Reading

I’ve got another book to talk about that I forgot about because I read it just before I got sidetracked by vacation: How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig.

I’d classify this one as mainstream literary fiction with speculative fiction elements. The plot is very sf/f, but I think it’s executed in more of a mainstream way, though I can’t quite put my finger on why I say that. I just think a fantasy author would have given us a very different book based on this premise and with this plot. When I describe it, you’ll think science fiction (or maybe fantasy), but the book itself isn’t quite what you might expect from that description if you’re a science fiction/fantasy reader. If that makes sense.

The main character has a condition that means he ages very slowly. It’s sort of the opposite of the disease that makes children age so rapidly that they die of old age in childhood. I think maybe one of the things that makes this more mainstream than sf is that it never really gets into what causes this — is it something scientific like a mutation or something magical? The main character is more than 400 years old, but he only looks about 40. He works for an organization designed to keep this condition a secret and protect the people who have it from being turned into scientific experiments or from any kind of persecution. In exchange for going on the occasional mission to determine if a person has the condition and to bring that person into the fold to keep it secret — or possibly deal with threats to exposure, if necessary — he gets the funding and documentation he needs to live a reasonably normal life somewhere for about eight years, which is the length of time someone can generally go before the lack of aging becomes obvious.

The story flashes back to various points in his history, including his youth, before he realized what was happening to him and he made the mistake of getting married — they were two young people getting married, but after years went by, it looked like a middle-aged woman married to a teenager. Worse, that was a period of witchcraft scares, and not aging looked awfully suspicious. In the present, he’d really just like to have a normal life. It gets lonely not being able to maintain a relationship with someone who isn’t like him for more than eight years. He thinks he has a daughter somewhere out there who’s like him (he had to separate from his family because of that witchcraft thing), and he’d like to find her.

This was a fairly quick read, and it was quite engrossing and fascinating. I love history, so I enjoyed visiting the various time periods. I did have a bit of cognitive dissonance as a Doctor Who fan, since old person who looks young and doesn’t seem to age, bouncing around in time, reads to me as Time Lord, and so I kept expecting him to recognize major events that were about to happen. Then I remembered that it was only the story that was bouncing around in time. He’d actually experienced these events the slow way, in the proper order (as the Doctor would say).

There were jacket blurbs swooning about how romantic the book was, but as a former romance author who tends to write things with romance in them, I didn’t find it that romantic. It’s Guy Literary Romance, which is basically a young woman being fascinated with a middle-aged (looking) man. So, if you’re looking for something deeply romantic, this won’t scratch that itch.

I’d say this is a great choice if you want to sneak something science fiction or fantasy into your book group that isn’t normally into that sort of thing. It’s also a fun read for Doctor Who fans, if you want to imagine the main character as a Time Lord. It sounds like I’m not really praising it, but I did like it. I just don’t want anyone to be disappointed from expecting it to be something that it really isn’t. And now I’d kind of like to try writing the book that I expected this to be. Because I need more story ideas to add to the list.

2 Responses to “Still More Reading”

  1. Brenda

    Shanna,
    Perfect timing, as I’m discussing How to Stop Time with my book group this month. I do like to expand their reading horizons, and also didn’t really find it romantic. The time traveling only in his memories made me think of King of Shadows by Susan Cooper, about a boy who travels back to the Globe Theatre during Shakespeare’s time, which I really enjoyed.

    reply
    • Shanna Swendson

      Sounds like my instincts were on target with it being a book group book! I think my problem with the romance is that it mostly took place off-stage. Like, with the wife, it skips straight from them first sort of noticing each other that way to “and then we got married.” Ditto with the present-day story.

      reply

Leave a Reply