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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A History Maker

Alasdair Gray

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To purchase A History Maker

Title: A History Maker
Author: Alasdair Gray
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994
Length: 224 pages
Availability: A History Maker - US
A History Maker - UK
A History Maker - Canada
  • First published in 1994 (Canongate). Revised edition published 1995 (Penguin) and 1996 (Harcourt Brace).
  • This review refers to the revised edition.
  • Adapted from an unproduced play completed in 1965

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Our Assessment:

A- : clever, enjoyable future history

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 18/8/1996 Nicholas Birns
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A Spring/1998 William M. Harrison
TLS B- 9/12/1994 Mick Imlah
The Village Voice A 9/4/1996 Andrew Ross
The Washington Post . 17/5/1996 Carolyn See

  Review Consensus:

  Fairly enthusiastic, though they don't seem to be entirely sure what to make of it.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite its speculative detours, A History Maker never loses sight of its storyline and characters, who are more emotionally engaging than those in some of Mr. Gray's previous work." - Nicholas Birns, The New York Times Book Review

  • "What finally makes A History Maker unique is that Wat, the apparent hero, fails to have any part in the remaking of his society. In this way, Gray expresses his own ambivalence toward hero worship, both as a cultural phenomenon and as a method of sociopolitical improvement. From his quasi-Hegelian perspective, change can be produced by the individual, but progress demands the efforts of the collective." - William M. Harrison, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Even the sex fails to strike its usual spark from this author; and by half-way the narrative can be felt separating too readily into patches of fancy, philosophical excursions and epigrams from elsewhere" - Mick Imlah, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In a style more akin to that of The Handmaid's Tale than that of Snow Crash, Gray uses the science-fiction genre as a virtuoso vehicle for political allegory, and for expounding his own pithy views on the cunning of history. (...) Gray's touch is light and wry, and there is enough strangeness in his future to whet conventional SF appetites." - Andrew Ross, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Gray's short novel, A History Maker, is again a fiction presented swaddled in explanation and exegesis, a fictional memoir edited and annotated and commented upon. As Gray does this sort of thing very well there should be few complaints about the form the novel takes.
       It is set in the future, introduced in a prologue by the memoirist's mother dated 8 December, 2234. The hero -- the history maker -- is Wat Dryhope, son of the chief in Ettrick Forest (sort of a Scottish Sherwood Forest). The 23rd century world portrayed here is a utopia -- of sorts. History has come to an end here. Oh, there is still fighting between peoples and nations, but it is completely regulated, taking on the form of an elaborate board-game.
       In battle Wat does not play entirely by the rules, setting off the events that make him the "history maker". The rules of engagement change, and with them all the underlying fabric of these societies. A woman, Delilah Puddock, with her own agenda complicates Wat's life and the general situation. History spreads again, with predictable consequences.
       Extensive notes at the end of the memoir allow for various asides, comments and opinions, rewritten history, explanations of new (and old) coinages, and the like. A brief postscript, "by a student of folklore", closes the book.
       Though set in the future, Gray has a lot of fun with references to the present, well-woven into the narrative and the notes. It is a decidedly contemporary book, with Wat influenced by John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World and looking to much of this century to learn about his own.
       Clever and playful A History Maker is both an enjoyable story and an interesting meditation on a variety of subjects, foremost being history per se, but also including questions regarding the sexes as well as the needs and desires of individuals and society. Well written, as always, it is an entertaining and thoughtful read. Recommended.

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A History Maker: Reviews: Alasdair Gray Other books by Alasdair Gray under review: Books about Alasdair Gray under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       Scottish author Alasdair Gray was born in 1934. A noted illustrator and author, he has written a number of remarkable works of fiction.

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