Time and Time Again: Ben Elton

I am a big fan of Ben Elton; comedian and writer of TV series such as The Young Ones and Blackadder. His sense of humour appeals. I have read his thriller Popcorn before and so jumped at the chance to read a historically related novel of his. What historian is not fascinated by the concept of time travel? The book centres around a question, if you could change history, what would you change? Within this, the ability to alter the entire 20th century is explored, a tempting idea for many – but could you live with the idea that your loved ones may never have existed?

Time and Time Again opens in 1914 Istanbul and introduces the character of Hugh Stanton, a typical action adventure ex-soldier type. From this point forth it skips between the present (2020s Britain) and 1914, as it is explained how Stanton got to be in past. He is tasked by his former university professor with changing the course of the 20th century by preventing the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and killing Wilhelm I of Germany. The book follows Stanton’s loneliness as well as the obligatory fighting scenes, as he comes to terms with his family’s deaths and being alone in the knowledge that he is from the future.

This book is punchy and fast-paced, once you get into it the novel can be very hard to put down! Yet, the end may feel slightly rushed to many. All the big upheavals occur in the last 30 pages or so, which is a shame as these are the parts that make this book less of a predictable action thriller. It is meant to mirror Stanton’s slow realisation that one really shouldn’t meddle in time – beat of a butterfly’s wings causing ripples in time etc. But somehow this feels almost like lazy writing, which is a shame as the book’s culmination is thought-provoking – it even sparked a debate among my friends. Would we change history if we were given a chance?

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