Saturday, 20 March 2010

Blast from the Past

I've always been a bit a bit unsure about whether I like Ben Elton's work or not. As a comic, I've always thought him very clever - too clever sometimes - but also a bit smarmy. Since he moved into novels, I had been keen to see what he is like as writer.

I had my first opportunity to do so two years ago when I was gifted Blind Faith. Unfortunately this take on a futuristic "1984" style world did not overly impress me, and I found it to be quickly forgettable. I still wanted to read one of his earlier, more celebrated works though.

Blast from the Past is the story of Polly who as a peace campaigner in the early eighties had a relationship with an American soldier, Jack. 16 years later, he pays her an unexpected visit. The rest of the book fleshes out the stories of their lives and ultimately reveals the reasons for Jack's visit. A third player in the drama is Peter, a man obsessed with Polly who has been stalking her for some time.

Although the book is only 363 pages long, it could have been a lot shorter. The action is slow in places and the dialogue and narration is, at times, tedious and repetitive. There are some clever and witty lines, as you'd expect from Elton, but these are sparse. As with his stand-up, sometimes these are too clever or contrived.

A lot of the story is set during the period when Elton was making his name as an alternative comedian against the backdrop of Thatcher's Britain and the Cold War. He rehearses various arguments of the left, in particular those that railed against capitalism and the nuclear deterrent. From a modern perspective, this is all a bit tired and the book does nothing to add to the understanding of events at the time.

Having now read two Elton books, I still find myself searching for one which is ultimately satisfying. As well as this one, I've also been lent Past Mortem - perhaps that will end my search.



Stephen Chapman said...

Never really liked him - always a bit smug it seems. Though he has done well for someone who was "just" a standup comedian.

Do you think the publishers are just hoping people will buy based on the name?

oneexwidow said...

It looks like it now, although the early books were very well received - and I've had some of them personally recommended too.