Making History by Stephen Fry (Hutchinson: 1996) A young historian and a jaded physicist meet in the corridors of high education, discovering an unlikely common interest. Their curiosity leads them to developing a machine that poses more philosophical questions than they first realised. They use it unquestioningly, and the results are the stuff of high entertainment.
This is high risk reading. Danger at every corner with this one. First, it was a birthday present. Who goes on-line and disses a birthday present? Gits, that’s who.
Second, it’s by that delightful Stephen Fry. I (like most of you I’m sure) really like that guy. True, the last few years have given us perhaps a bit too much Fry, but he’s got a lot of credit in the bank from Jeeves and Wooster, credit that I can’t imagine him ever really exhausting.
Third, it was a bit big, which put some stress on my ability to try and finish a new book for you guys every week. On the plus side, the writing was real large.
So you can imagine my relief when the book started well. One of my main worries was that all I would hear is Stephen Fry talking to me. When the author is so famous, there’s the danger that the book itself will fail to speak. That the story won’t get a chance to really live under the weight of the author’s character. That didn’t happen here. The protagonist (and narrator of large passages) was lively and separate from Fry. He had his own personality, and Fry stayed diligently in the background.
And it was (as you’d expect from Fry) well written and well paced. It was very easy to read. The sentences and the paragraphs and the chapters were structured so effortlessly that you could just strap in and enjoy the ride. The book didn’t ask much from me, but equally I didn’t feel short changed. There was just enough to make me feel I was into something meaty, but not so much that I had to wade through it with furrowed brow.
So far, so good.
But then the plot kicked in properly. About half way through, or maybe three quarters, the plot really woke up. And I’m not sure I liked that.
Of course, it’s difficult to go through exactly why without giving away the ins and outs. Suffice to say that it all went a bit fantastical. It had its good points. It posed some interesting hypothetical questions. But I couldn’t help feeling I had leapt from a tightly woven narrative into some sort of contrived Back to the Future sequel.
And before you get on my back, I of course love Back to the Future. Love it. But I didn’t really feel it had a place here. It’s like watching Inspector Morse for an hour and a half, and then Doctor Who suddenly landing and waving his electric screwdriver around. I love them both, Morse and Who, but for different reasons, and I think I may cry if ever they were to trample on each other’s ground.
So yes, that spoiled it ever so slightly. But I continued to fly through the pages, continued to be entertained by the subtle wit that Fry dropped in wherever possible, continued to enjoy the characters her created, continued to race towards the 572nd page and the grand conclusion.
So in all, a good book. An enjoyable book. But one with flaws.
I’d read it again. And again. But maybe not again after that.
Next week, I give the latest Man Booker Prize winner a shot.