In this era of downloads and internet shopping, more and more people are deprived of the joy of browsing through racks of cds, looking for bargains, surprises, or just that special recording.
Grove Music, downstairs at The Grove Bookshop, offers a wide range of classical new releases, jazz on cd and vinyl, and a back catalogue of classic recordings in folk, jazz, classical and rock music. Rediscover the joy of browsing in our cosy basement shop.
Time and Time Again by Ben Elton
Wed 4th Feb 15
Writer and comedian Ben Elton has covered the First World War before, in The First Casualty, but in his latest book he approaches it from a very different angle; we are introduced to a secret society, formed at Cambridge University, which hopes to send a man back to 1914 in order to prevent the outbreak of war. Time travel and alternative realities are popular subjects for novelists and this book enters territory previously explored by writers as diverse as Kate Atkinson, Geoffrey Household and Stephen King. I exclude H.G. Wells from this group as his traveller headed for the future – I have always thought that a trip to the past would be much more intriguing, and Elton clearly thinks so too.
On Christmas Eve, 2024, ex-soldier and TV adventurer Hugh Stanton returns to Cambridge to meet his old tutor, the eccentric Professor Sally McCluskey, who proceeds to embroil him in the plot to take advantage of a bend in time, enabling somebody to go back to Sarajevo, prevent the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, then kill off the Kaiser in Berlin for good measure. The plot is absurd, the language is frequently painful to read, but once I managed to ignore these problems and suspend my disbelief I found myself thoroughly enjoying what is really a John Buchan-style adventure.
Once Stanton has arrived in the past, trained in contemporary social history and armed with subtly disguised modern technology, Elton’s enthusiasm for his subject really begins to come through. Stanton relishes the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of life a century ago, and his instinctive reliance on modern sensibilities is often a threat to his mission; there’s more to surviving in the past than just wearing the right clothes. We are really made to consider the little things, whether it’s the flavour of a dish, the shape of someone’s face or simply a turn of phrase, and this adds another, subtler layer to what could be a tongue-in-cheek Boys’ Own adventure. Real characters mingle with fictional ones as time begins to pass, and events which are known to everyone suddenly take on a freshness as little things start to change thanks to Stanton’s intervention.
Unlike the character in Stephen King’s 11.22.63 sent back to prevent the Kennedy assassination, Stanton doesn’t have the luxury of 400 pages to settle into his new surroundings, but despite this the world of 1914 is richly painted. The story is bookended by two outrageous plot strands; towards the end of the book we are shown the results in 2024 of what our time-traveller has done, while the origin of the whole tale comes from a totally ridiculous episode involving Sir Isaac Newton.
On so many levels, this novel shouldn’t work; the characters are mainly caricatures, the language can be terribly clumsy but, somehow, Ben Elton has produced a glorious time-travelling romp which I found hard to put down. The book reminded me of spy films from the 1930s and, if it ever makes it to the big screen, I will be queuing for a ticket.