Reviews Day Tuesday! It’s a thing now. If you don’t believe me just go watch this video (and while you’re there, anything else the vlogbrothers have been up to lately – it’s worth a watch) and you will know that this is a thing. This Tuesday I am reviewing:
Making History by Stephen Fry incorporates several of my favourite themes in fiction.
First of all, the setting. Cambridge, England. What’s not to like? Next, the narrator: Michael Young, aka ‘Pup’ or ‘Puppy’. He is an MA candidate, exhaustively (if not ludicrously) knowledgeable about a single decade or so in Austria at the turn of the twentieth century. As for every other time and place in the world, including his own current time and place…well, in his own words: “That’s not my period.”
Given that I’m spending a ridiculous amount of time in university myself, the only believable literary graduate student is a maladjusted one. Michael’s general naïveté about the world as it is now is rivaled only by his thesis supervisor’s kimono-wearing and cactus-collecting weirdness: an academic who has clearly lost interest in appearances and also his sanity, though he’s managed to hang onto his tenure.
Once you get past the blundering intro of Michael’s daily life as an MA student and his woes with his considerably more self-possessed science-studying girlfriend, we get into the meat of the story: time travel. It’s a theme that I never tire of because of the questions it raises. What if you could go back and change just one thing? How would you change it? And what happens if the one thing you change changes everything?
Michael Young is a history student. His period: the childhood of Adolf Hitler. What he is offered: the chance to unmake that period.
So. What if you were given the chance to make it so that Hitler was never even born? What would you do?
What I love about Fry’s writing is that while his stories are often entertaining, they are also unafraid of touching on darker matters. By changing one thing, Michael Young changes everything – and he wakes up in a new world. A world which was not built on the lessons of WWII as we understand it, but was built on conflict nonetheless. To give a sample of one of the themes of the book: one of the legacies of WWII was the manner in which it galvanized the international human rights movement and led the industrialized world to value, promote and protect diversity. What happens to that tolerance when the lessons in the evils of intolerance in WWII are taken away? This is just one of the darker sides of what might have been that Fry explores in this novel.
I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to find out. If you’re looking for a light read that will primarily entertain you but also give you some food for thought, I highly recommend you look into the dark comedy and irreverent revisionist history that is Stephen Fry’s Making History.