Fiction, Fiction Reviews, Reviews

Review: “Making History” by Stephen Fry

4 Stars of 5 ★★★★☆

I love Stephen Fry. He’s so poignant and yet hilarious, and there’s some quotes in this novel that really strike home. This story though? It’s okay. I’m giving it four stars just because of my love for this quote: “The biggest challenge facing the great teachers and communicators of history is not to teach history itself, nor even the lessons of history, but why history matters. How to ignite the first spark of the will o’the wisp, the Jack o’lantern, the ignis fatuus [foolish fire] beloved of poets, which lights up one source of history and then another, zigzagging across the marsh, connecting and linking and writing bright words across the dark face of the present. There’s no phrase I can come up that will encapsulate in a winning sound-bite why history matters. We know that history matters, we know that it is thrilling, absorbing, fascinating, delightful and infuriating, that it is life. Yet I can’t help wondering if it’s a bit like being a Wagnerite; you just have to get used to the fact that some people are never going to listen.”

This pretty such much sums up the theme of the novel. A person that doesn’t understand history will think that by erasing one negative aspect(in this case a person), everything will change for the better. It doesn’t work that way. History doesn’t work that way.

The novel basically goes like this: So, you just found out you can travel in time. What do you want to do first?

Well, okay. It’s been done, but what the hay. Every time travel novel ever has something to do with WWII and/or the erasing of Hitler, but I digress.

Oh, so you don’t want to kill Hitler, just erase him? Okay…done.

The world’s different. Everything has to be better, right? Things are strange. Wait, wait, wait. Give me a history book. Oh, boy. Things are worse? There is a guy that’s chill, so that’s a plus but, wow. We screwed up.

What to do next? Well, it’s simple really. Fix it.

Here’s the summary, for those who want more detail (via Goodreads):

Those of us who have already discovered Stephen Fry know him as the brilliant British comedian behind TV series such as Jeeves & Wooster and Blackadder, and the author of two enormously funny novels, The Liar and The Hippopotamus. But his new film (in which he plays Oscar Wilde) and his new novel (this one) represent a somewhat alarming departure from his previous work: They’re more serious. Though humor is still an essential ingredient of both, Fry’s fans are finally getting to witness the emotional depth that this brilliant polymath usually keeps hidden.

In Making History, Fry has bitten off a rather meaty chunk by tackling an at first deceptively simple premise: What if Hitler had never been born? An unquestionable improvement, one would reason–and so an earnest history grad student and an aging German physicist idealistically undertake to bring this about by preventing Adolf’s conception. And with their success is launched a brave new world that is in some ways better than ours–but in most ways even worse. Fry’s experiment in history makes for his most ambitious novel yet, and his most affecting. His first book to be set mostly in America, it is a thriller with a funny streak, a futuristic fantasy based on one of mankind’s darkest realities. It is, in every sense, a story of our times.

There are some powerful messages in this novel, but it’s presented in an entertaining way so readers don’t roll their eyes at the Main Character’s awkwardness. It’s a good read. I recommend it. It’s, here again, not his best work, but it’s up there.

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