Yesterday I discovered one of the most under-rated blessings of life – forgetting your keys when it’s cold and raining. Because then, my dear friends, you are forced to continue reading the book in your handbag you’d given up for being boring, to distract you from the fact that you are a) cold and b) wet while sat on the doorstep. After 1 hour and 50 minutes of being sat the afore-mentioned cold stone step, you’re almost (almost, I said) glad that you did so as the afore-mentioned book actually turns out to be very, very good.
Amazon – ‘Michael Young is convinced his brilliant history thesis will win him a doctorate, a pleasant academic post, a venerable academic publisher and his beloved girlfriend Jane. A historian should know better than to imagine that he can predict the future.
Leo Zuckerman is an ageing physicist obsessed with the darkest period in human history, utterly driven by his fanatical hatred of one man. A lover’s childish revenge and the breaking of a rotten clasp cause the two men to meet in a blizzard of swirling pages. Pages of history. When they come together nothing – past, present or future – will ever be the same again.’
Oh shut up. So, basically Michael Young (who naturally appears as Stephen Fry in my head) is a miserable post-graduate history student who, along with an older Professor, use a machine to alter time so Adolf Hitler was never born, ergo no Holocaust, no World War II, etc.
Mr Fry Mr Young is transported into the new reality with a complete knowledge of what happened, and is shocked to discover that the new world is very different to how he expected.
I first thought that this novel was the dullest thing I had ever experienced. I got a quarter of the way in and was prepared to give it up as a bad job. But then, as you probably gathered, I was stuck sat on a cold stone step for nearly two hours and figured I might as well read a bit more. I’m glad I did, because this book turned out to be amazing.
It does have a very, very slow start as Michael Young complains about his sad little life, alternating with chapters narrated by historical characters you’ve never heard of. But if you persevere past the first third, it gets to the point where you just can’t put it down. The characters are all completely believable, and Michael’s confusion at his new life is very realistic.
I think I expected it to be funny, so I couldn’t get along with its serious tone. It’s not a humourous book, but Mr. Fry’s voice is still perfectly clear and shines with the dry tone we’re all accustomed to. I preferred the chapters dealing with Michael than the ones set in the past, as the multitude of German names and historical events was a little confusing and dull.
My one problem was a lot of it wasn’t adequately explained. The thing that bothered me the most was why Michael retained his memory of his old life after he travelled, but nobody else did, not even the Professor he worked with. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense and there wasn’t even an attempt to explain it. Similarly, the reader is supposed to just accept a lot of what changed through a lack of Hitler, without being told why it did so. I mean, why is homosexuality illegal in the new world, and why does everybody drink out of pointed cups? I’d just have liked a little more explanation.
Oh, and a few of the chapters are written in screenplay-form for no apparent reason. I understand that those were the ‘important’ scenes, but non-prose fiction just doesn’t immerse you quite as well and frequently I found I was skimming and had to go back and start again.
But still, it’s a very clever book regardless and I’m definitely glad I persevered with it. The ending especially sealed the deal for me – I do like a nicely rounded-off ending and this one even gave me the Happy Book Fuzz.