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Source: (consider it) Thread: January Book Group - How to Stop Time
Sarasa
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The Ship of Fools Book Group pick for January 2018 is How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. Best described as a romantic historical fantasy, it's an easy quick read and one of the books I enjoyed most last year. I'm looking forward to reading it again for the the Book Group. As usual I'll post questions on the 20th.

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'I guess things didn't go so well tonight, but I'm trying. Lord, I'm trying.' Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in Mean Streets.

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Ian Climacus

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I want to make an effort to read more this year. I shall hunt it down.
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Curiosity killed ...

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It's the current R4 Book at Bedtime, which is intriguing me (but I'm still reading Hogfather having not been able to find the copy we both thought we had).

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Trudy Scrumptious

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From a quick glimpse at the blurb, there is no possible way I will not be reading this book. Just hope I can get hold of a copy.

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Books and things.

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andras
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Oh, I have to read this - one of my own characters is a woman who has 'never learned to die,' a fact which has gone blissfully unnoticed by other people simply because she's just a part of the scenery.

So yes, count me in!

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God's on holiday.
(Why borrow a cat?)
Adrian Plass

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Trudy Scrumptious

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I can't get it in this country till Feb 6, so I'll probably jump in a bit late on the discussion.

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Books and things.

I lied. There are no things. Just books.

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Paul.
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I read this back in September and enjoyed it a lot. Not sure if I can fit in a re-read before the 20th (two other book clubs!) but maybe.

Either way I'll probably jump in on the discussion.

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Sarasa
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Sorry it won't be availble for January TS. Why do publishers publish books at random times in different countries. There must be quite a few people in books clubs similar to this one.

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'I guess things didn't go so well tonight, but I'm trying. Lord, I'm trying.' Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in Mean Streets.

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Sarasa
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Here are a few questions. Feel free to add your own.

1. For fantasy to work it has to provide a convincing world. Were you convinced by Tom's world and situation?

2. Did you find the fact Tom kept on bumping into famous people endearing or annoying. Did it detract or enhance your reading of the book?

3. Towards the end Tom realises two things. That is important to live without fear and that in every moment he can see every other one. Did this resonate with you?

4. If you have read other books about romance between people who live on different timescales, how did this compare?

5. Have you read any other Matt Haig books, and if so what did you think of them?

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'I guess things didn't go so well tonight, but I'm trying. Lord, I'm trying.' Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in Mean Streets.

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Sarasa:
Here are a few questions. Feel free to add your own.

1. For fantasy to work it has to provide a convincing world. Were you convinced by Tom's world and situation?

2. Did you find the fact Tom kept on bumping into famous people endearing or annoying. Did it detract or enhance your reading of the book?

3. Towards the end Tom realises two things. That is important to live without fear and that in every moment he can see every other one. Did this resonate with you?

4. If you have read other books about romance between people who live on different timescales, how did this compare?

5. Have you read any other Matt Haig books, and if so what did you think of them?

1 - Yes, I think it's reasonably convincing (but note the caveat below).

2 - Why did he never bump into anyone else whom he admired at the time and whose disappearance from history he deplores? On balance I did find it rather irritating.

3 - Oh Lord, if that's all the profit he has from several hundred years of living then Heaven help him!

4 - This is something of a commonplace in myth and story, from Tithonus down to the present day. Huxley had a bash at it too (After Many a Summer whose title explicitly references the Tithonus story) and even Garth in the Daily Mirror went there in the 1950s.

5 - No, but it's quite an interesting read.

BUT are we really supposed to believe that Tom is a reliable narrator? There are enough (deliberate??) historical and linguistic bloopers in the story to make me ask whether he is, in fact, not totally deluded, and that we the readers are supposed to take this on board - in much the same way that Swift warns us that Gulliver is an unreliable narrator by the repeated Master Bates joke in the first two pages of the Travels.

Glad I read it, though!

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God's on holiday.
(Why borrow a cat?)
Adrian Plass

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Ian Climacus

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1. I was more engrossed than I expected. I loved being taken back and forth throughout history and watching the life of Tom, and those he loved, unfold before me.

2. Endearing. The stories made me feel like I was there with them and rounded out the characters of those I've only judged on their works or achievements. Who is to know if Shakespeare didn't let some young lovers escape one performance? I liked thinking about it.

3.The "in every moment you can see another one" resonated more strongly. I found this aspect of the book quite appealing and engaging, and found myself pondering connections between events in my life.

4. & 5. This is my first of both. Will not be my last.

Thank you for such an engaging book.

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Sarasa
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1. For fantasy to work it has to provide a convincing world. Were you convinced by Tom's world and situation? . I was pretty convinced. The premise that some people age more slowly was one I could buy into. I found the school a tad too relaxed for any British schools I’ve come across recently, but maybe Tom got lucky.

2. Did you find the fact Tom kept on bumping into famous people endearing or annoying. Did it detract or enhance your reading of the book? I found it a bit annoying. I think if it had been all people documented by history but not so famous, such Omai I wouldn’t have minded so much. But Shakespeare and Scott Fitzgerald seemed rather lazy. Unless of course Andras is right and Tom is an unreliable narrator. See comments below on that.

3. Towards the end Tom realises two things. That is important to live without fear and that in every moment he can see every other one. Did this resonate with you? . This might be a commonplace message, but it did resonate with me and added to the romantic end of the book.

4. If you have read other books about romance between people who live on different timescales, how did this compare?  I much prefered this book to ‘The Time-Traveler’s Wife’, a book that I enjoyed uo to a point and then lost interest in. My favourite is Diana Wynne Jones’ ‘The Crown of Dalemark’. Maewen is sent back into the past, and there meets Mitt. The scene where she comes back to present times and realises that Mitt would have been dead years ago is, to me, very powerful

5. Have you read any other Matt Haig books, and if so what did you think of them?. I read lots of good things about ‘The Humans’, so I read that shortly after reading ‘How to Stop Time.’ My husband and son both thought it was the better book, and both spent a great deal of time laughing over it. I enjoyed it, but not as much as this book.

Andras – Do you think Tom is 400 plus years old, but making up meeting Shakespeare etc., or do you think he is a forty year old teacher romancing a woman he fancies with a tall tale?

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'I guess things didn't go so well tonight, but I'm trying. Lord, I'm trying.' Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in Mean Streets.

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andras
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quote:
Originally posted by Sarasa:
(Heavily Snipped)

Andras – Do you think Tom is 400 plus years old, but making up meeting Shakespeare etc., or do you think he is a forty year old teacher romancing a woman he fancies with a tall tale?

I'm not sure exactly what he is, or how much we can trust the author's historical and other research.

Just a couple of examples: according to Tom, the photographer at Ciro's told him to 'prétendez' that he wasn't there. But my old French teacher would have insisted that prétendre and pretend are what the French call faux amis - words that look as if they mean the same thing, but don't quite. Prétendre, I was taught, means To Claim - as in 'The Young Pretender' - while to act as if something is other than it is would be feindre or perhaps faire semblant.

'Satan lives here' - I can accept the -s suffix (-eth was still possible and is used in the AV, but probably not very much in ordinary speech) but in Shakespeare's time, 'live' meant 'draw breath' or 'exist' - to inhabit a particular place would be to 'abide'.

And what about Cook's fine ship that's being prepared for him, according to Tom? As Every Fule Kno, all Cook's voyages were made in Whitby Colliers, which he chose for their shallow draft, easy handling and solid construction.

So - are these the author's bloopers, or are they typical of what Tom would say if he's the sort of delusionary individual who's convinced that they were Cleopatra or Julius Caesar in an earlier life - hardly anyone believes they are a reincarnation of some Greek farm slave no-one's ever heard of!

Or - perhaps the most likely explanation - am I once again talking through my hat?

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God's on holiday.
(Why borrow a cat?)
Adrian Plass

Posts: 544 | From: Tregaron | Registered: Dec 2001  |  IP: Logged
Paul.
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1. For fantasy to work it has to provide a convincing world. Were you convinced by Tom's world and situation?

Yes. There's really not a lot of extra world-building you have to accept. So long as you're willing to go along with the premise of Tom's condition then the rest of the world is the same. I did like that the author doesn't try to explain the condition. We don't need fake science we just need to know the basics.

2. Did you find the fact Tom kept on bumping into famous people endearing or annoying. Did it detract or enhance your reading of the book?

It didn't detract. With Shakespeare I liked it, and it felt earned in the sense that he was in the right place and time, and that was where he lived for some time, not just turning up in Paris and happening to meeting the Fitzgeralds. But even then... well it's effectively a time travel story, if you can't have a bit of fun with the premise.

What annoyed me more, well annoyed is a bit strong, what felt very convenient, was that after spending centuries looking for Marion he just happens to run into Mary Peters and she has just happened to have recently run into Marion.

3. Towards the end Tom realises two things. That is important to live without fear and that in every moment he can see every other one. Did this resonate with you?

The former yes. The later, I'm sure that's in there but I didn't see it as clearly as you just expressed it. There was a sense of needing to live in the now, but that's another aspect of living without fear I suppose - fear of the future.

As someone who's followed Matt Haig on Twitter and knows about his struggles with anxiety and depression, and his advocacy for mental health, it's hard not to read some of the "live without fear"/"live in the now" stuff in the light of that.

4. If you have read other books about romance between people who live on different timescales, how did this compare?

I don't know if I've read another romance like this. The book it reminds me most of is The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. In that book there are these people who re-live their lives over and over. It's quite a different premise but there's a feel to it that's similar.

5. Have you read any other Matt Haig books, and if so what did you think of them? [/QB]

No, but I've had The Humans sitting in my TBR pile for a while.

I really like this book. I really like the story of Tom and Rose, and Tom and Camille. I could have lived without the whole Hendrich sub-plot, especially towards the end when it all becomes a bit thriller-y. It tries to wrap a lot of stuff up very quickly. Tom goes from still trusting Hendrich implicitly to defying him very quickly. I'd like to have seen some more cracks of doubt I think. Also the re-introduction of Marion was too sudden and too late. I'd've liked to have spent more time over their reconciliation.

Overall though, a very fun read. I've now read it twice and can see me re-reading it again.

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Sarasa
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Paul said:
quote:
I could have lived without the whole Hendrich sub-plot, especially towards the end when it all becomes a bit thriller-y. It tries to wrap a lot of stuff up very quickly. Tom goes from still trusting Hendrich implicitly to defying him very quickly. I'd like to have seen some more cracks of doubt I think. Also the re-introduction of Marion was too sudden and too late. I'd've liked to have spent more time over their reconciliation.
Yes I thought the end was a bit rushed, which was a shame as Marion was a great character when she did appear. I had my doubts about Hendrich from quite early on. I also wondered what connections Hendrich had so that he could set people up with new lievs every eight years and what was in it for him, apart from getting the odd person murdered.

Andras - I didn't spot the history bloopers, though i did think some of the language in the scenes set in the past didn't quite ring true, 'pippin-hawks' and other quaint terms not withstanding. I didn't see Tom as an unreliable narrator though.

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'I guess things didn't go so well tonight, but I'm trying. Lord, I'm trying.' Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in Mean Streets.

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andras
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Writing dialogue for a period in which we actually know pretty-much how people spoke - Elizabethan times, for instance - is always going to be a minefield for the writer. The whole thee - thou thing is a real problem for the modern reader (added to the fact that a lot of writers can't cope with the associated verb-forms correctly) but equally it jars almost as much if the characters just talk modern English.

Shaw in Saint Joan just took the modern-English approach, while the (excellent) television comedy show Upstart Crow gets away with a quite-persuasive form of cod-Elizabethan. Maybe Blackadder was best, in this as in many other ways.

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God's on holiday.
(Why borrow a cat?)
Adrian Plass

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Paul.
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quote:
Originally posted by andras:
Writing dialogue for a period in which we actually know pretty-much how people spoke - Elizabethan times, for instance - is always going to be a minefield for the writer. The whole thee - thou thing is a real problem for the modern reader (added to the fact that a lot of writers can't cope with the associated verb-forms correctly) but equally it jars almost as much if the characters just talk modern English.

Honestly, it doesn't jar for me. I'm aware that it's not authentic but that's something that registers then I can put to the back of my mind. If I was reading Elizabethan dialogue the whole time I would be aware of that a lot more. I'm sure I'd cope but it'd be there all the time whereas the modern English fades into the background and lets the story through.

That said I'm currently reading a novel partly set in the early 18th century where the prose and dialogue - language, spelling and punctuation - is what I assume is correct for the period. Takes a little adjustment but is not too bad after a while.

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Marama
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1. For fantasy to work it has to provide a convincing world. Were you convinced by Tom's world and situation?
Yes, I found the premise convincing and intriguing. Clearly if one party in a relationship, and most people in families, age normally and then one person doesn’t, there are likely to be all sorts of problems, emotional and practical, even without accusations of witchcraft. These were investigated plausibly, I felt, and I found the portrayal of Omai and his aged daughter touching. But I agree that the ending was a bit rushed and the coincidences a bit too big around Mary Peters and Marion. More on the reconciliation with Marion – who could have been a strong character but doesn’t really get a chance – would have improved it.

2. Did you find the fact Tom kept on bumping into famous people endearing or annoying. Did it detract or enhance your reading of the book?
It’s fair game to invent around Shakespeare because remarkably little is known about his life and so Matt Haig is quite entitled to have some fun with it. I enjoyed this aspect (and the slightly stilted modern English didn’t bother me either). The Fitzgeralds left me rather more cold. But I’m a Pacific historian living in Australia, and I found the idea of Omai living as a surfer in Byron Bay truly delightful! Not that there weren’t inaccuracies in that part of the story – Wallis’ crew didn’t set fire to a Tahitian village, though they fired cannon at canoes when the canoe crews threw rocks at them, and they left venereal diseases on Tahiti; artist John (not Joe) Webber was with Cook’s 3rd voyage, not with Wallis – and so on. But maybe the bloopers don’t matter much. As a history nerd I spotted them, but Haig isn’t taking my course! I appreciated the fun – I’ll tell my son to look out for a 500 yr old Polynesian surfer next time he’s in the swell at Byron. I hadn’t considered it indicating that Tom might be an unreliable narrator- an interesting thought

3. Towards the end Tom realises two things. That is important to live without fear and that in every moment he can see every other one. Did this resonate with you?
It seems unfortunate that it took him 400 years to realise that living with fear is counterproductive. The idea that in every moment one can see every other one does resonate; connections over time are a constant backdrop to the historical endeavour.

4. If you have read other books about romance between people who live on different timescales, how did this compare?
I’ve not read much that would qualify here (deliberately; I’m not attracted to the Outlander premise) but I remember fondly reading Alison Utley’s 'A Traveller in Time' as a child. Not really a romance though, as far as I remember.

5. Have you read any other Matt Haig books, and if so what did you think of them?
This is the first Matt Haig book I’ve read, and while I enjoyed it and found it fun I probably won’t be searching out others

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Sarasa
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Marama said;
quote:
I found the idea of Omai living as a surfer in Byron Bay truly delightful!
I didn't know Omai was a real person until I read a reveiw of the book with a link to the Reynolds painting. I like the idea of imagining modern lives for historical characters.

Marama also said:
quote:
I remember fondly reading Alison Utley’s 'A Traveller in Time' as a child
That's a book I really enjoyed when I read it as an adult, but I don't remember a lot about it, apart from it hinged on the Babbington plot. I must look it out and re-read it.

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'I guess things didn't go so well tonight, but I'm trying. Lord, I'm trying.' Charlie (Harvey Keitel) in Mean Streets.

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