Books

Haig’s How to Stop Time

20108662_10154919828463237_2955655317455635138_nWhen I bought How to Stop Time (2017) I really wasn’t sure I’d like it. Fifty pages in and I still wasn’t sure. Writing this now, I just don’t know!

You see, I knew nothing about the book until I handed over the cash to get it. All I knew was that Matt Haig wrote it; and that was good enough for me. I loved Reasons to Stay Alive (2015). But HTST isn’t a memoir, it’s fiction – gasp.

The story centres on the unusual life of Tom Hazard, a 41-year-old history teacher in London. He keeps himself to himself. He’s guarded. Quite rightly so as he’s got a big secret: he’s not 41, he’s actually 436 years old. It’s not a spoiler to say it; he ages much slower than the average mayfly, aka human. With a life so long, having lived through the talking points of history, he must have stories to tell…

His story, though, is of loneliness and longing for things long gone – something I wasn’t expecting when I started to read. The story moves through time, starting in the late 1500s and flitting to present day London and back again through the ages. Once I passed the first 50-odd pages things picked up (I think I was having RTSA-expectation/withdrawal) and I just couldn’t put it down. I really got into it when Shakespeare cropped up…

However, I’ll be honest: I didn’t love this book and I hate that. It’s to do with having read RTSA; I could hear Matt Haig’s voice throughout, which made it hard to separate author and protagonist. This messed up the story for me. When Hazard philosophises about the meaning, value and use of Time, to me it reads like Haig in RTSA writing about how depression manipulates time.

It’s hard to pin down exactly what I feel when I think about this book. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes. Did I have trouble putting it down at night? Yes. Did I go to sleep later than usual to get those few extra pages in before I really had to go to sleep? Yes.

Am I satisfied with the ending? No. It was too neat and tidy, and the events leading up to it were a little too obvious for my liking. The book is also longer than it needs to be. Am I looking forward to the film? Kinda. Sadly, I find myself hoping Hollywood does what it does when books are made into movies… I hope it changes a few details.

Anyway, in keeping with my read-a-book-pass-it-on philosophy, I’m giving this book to Chloe. Maybe she’ll enjoy it more. My next read: F Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise.

 

Books

Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale…

So, I’ve just finished Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. If you’re looking for an adjective-heavy “proper” review, this is not that. This is a subjective review of a book I enjoyed reading for reasons outside the book itself too.

Since I gave away my book collection last year, which I had unconsciously kept since adolescence, I’m looking for somewhere to document what books I’ve read before I pass them on to friends. I’ve no grand writing/literary ambitions in doing this — it’s all too much pressure to write for a bigger purpose, I’ve found. This is why when I write blog posts about books, I’ll only write for the hour, typos and style be damned.

20139981_10154912432433237_2858587701620340653_nSo here goes…

Written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel about the role of enforced surrogate mothers, or more aptly, ‘surrogate vessels’ in totalitarian Republic of Gilead. Our story is set in what was formerly known as Maine in the US, if you go by the book. In the near future there is no United States of America, there is only Gilead, an authoritarian, religious regime.

The story centres on the life of Offred, a newly-named young woman whose real name we never get to know. Offred’s sole purpose in life, along with the other handmaids in this morbid society, is to get pregnant so that the population can thrive. Like Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother is watching; The Eyes, in this novel. Everything except complete submission to the regime is treason. But can Offred let go of the life she had before the regime took hold? And what of her life before? Her child, her husband, her mother – what role do they possess in this regime and where are they now?

I was on the fence about reading this novel. I thought its expected bleak tale of male authority and powerlessness in women would rattle me. “Oh I don’t know. It’s a little depressing for me right now,” I’d say, remembering how scarily deep I jumped into Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home. Three weeks ago though, I bit the bullet and went out to buy it. I can stop reading it if it gets too much, I rationalised.

First impressions: it’s so easy to read and not at all heavy if you prepare for the worst – my mind definitely conjures up THE WORST in these instances because the story was surprisingly manageable. Of course, there are moments in the book, like the Ceremony and the Salvaging, that are hard to forget… but I couldn’t put it down.

What I enjoyed most about the book is how much there was to imagine about how life could be — if that makes sense? It’s so far-fetched but so realistic too, I don’t know how both can be at the same time. And with Trump’s isolationist ways and news like this it’s hard not to think of a story like this being possible in our near future.
I shudder at the thought.

Anyway, I recommend it. I’m giving my copy to my friend Darragh, who I hope will pass it on to someone else when he’s finished with it.

My next read is Matt Haig’s newly published How to Stop Time. I went to Chapters on Parnell Street a few hours ago to pick it up. I was expecting a memoir of sorts, like 2015’s Reasons to Stay Alive, which I loved, but this book is a fiction. We’ll see what it’s like.

Until the next time!