What would it be like to have lived for centuries and hobnobbed with all the great and famous (and the not-so-great and the ordinary)? You wouldn’t even be able to brag about the time you were acting in plays with William Shakespeare, or tossing down cocktails with F. Scott Fitzgerald or the like, because people wouldn’t believe you, either figuring you’ve got a great imagination or that you’re delusional. If you weren’t the only one who could live for centuries, it stands to reason that the other immortals (or near immortals) would find each other and work out some rules for their mutual preservation, and you’d end up having to follow those rules, too. After a while, you’d probably just want to live an ordinary life, whether or not that would be possible for someone in your position.
That’s the premise of How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig. Tom Hazard, the protagonist, who’s already lived more than 500 years and has had all kinds of adventures over the centuries, is now working as a history teacher in a local high school (and here I have to tip my metaphorical hat to the author for this idea: what could be easier for an immortal person than teaching history, of all things? He wouldn’t even have to look anything up!), and trying to follow the rules of the Albatross Society, which protects people like him. The first rule of the society is not to fall in love, not to get attached, and you can see how sensible that would be if you were inevitably going to outlive your beloved and suffer through loss over and over again. However, while Tom is immortal, he’s also human, and there’s a French teacher at his school who is captivated by him, and he by her.
Can he break the rules of a very long lifetime, and defy the rules of an increasingly arbitrary and erratic leader of the Albatross Society and actually allow himself to fall in love and to begin to live fully and without hesitation in the present, for all its flaws? Even if you think you know the answers to these questions, it’s still worth spending some time with Tom and his colleagues to see how he manages to use the wisdom of a lifetime to learn how to be a happy person at last.