Published by: Transworld Books
If you had one chance to change history, what would you do? Kill Hitler? Talk Nick Clegg out of forming the coalition? Watch the film ‘Troy’ again? Perhaps not.
In Ben Elton’s 15th novel, Hugh Stanton is granted a rare opportunity to prevent one of history’s bloodiest occasions: the First World War,. Thanks to Isaac Newton and chain-smoking former history professor Sally McCluskey (the liveliest character in the book and potentially a good role for Dawn French), the ex-military hard nut is able to travel from his own time, 2025 – by which time things have rather gone to the dogs – back to 1914. He there hopes to prevent the crucial assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914. By then also killing the chief warmonger of the age, German leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II, he thus hopes to prevent the conflagration completely. The downside? Stanton’s actions are sure to extinguish the modern world and almost everyone he has ever known in the process. With a tragic past (Stanton’s family have been killed in a hit-and-run incident), this side-effect bothers Stanton little. But are he and McCluskey right to assume that a world in which the First World War did not break out in 1914, is necessarily better than the alternative?
Although it gets a bit bogged down in the complexities of alternative histories towards the end, Elton’s book is a thought-provoking and enjoyable romp. What’s more, with less time sensitive themes than most of Elton’s other books (who wants to read a novel satirising Pop Idol or Friends Reunited in 2015?), this book should hopefully endure and perhaps even stand the test of time.