Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Ben Elton - Then and Now

It's amazing what 16 years can do. Just ask Ben Elton, for example - as I've just finished reading two of his books, sixteen years apart in publication dates, and the difference is amazing.

Gridlock was Elton's first foray into novels, was written in 1991, and revolves around global warming and climate change. I may not agree with the way this issue is portrayed sometimes in the media today, but there's no denying the forward-thinking plot that Elton put forward - a world clogged by traffic with no end in sight, and a disabled main character who was utterly compelling. It's something you don't often see, and Elton, in some ways, was fifteen years ahead of his time with the issues he tackled, taking on subjects that just seem like they're tacked on for ratings or sales these days.

Despite this, I didn't really enjoy the book. The prose was formulaic, and there wasn't a huge amount of description - which is something that I crave in my books. Grammatically, it seemed to be all over the place, with sentence structure lacking and seemingly basic mistakes being made. I don't know who his editor was.

Leap forward the aforementioned 16 years, and I've finished Elton's latest book, Blind Faith. The plot concerns our society a few decades into the future, after a flood has wiped out most of what is now 'Lake' London, and society has crumbled into a vacuous pit of sex, gossip, blind subservience to a mysterious diety called 'Love' - the modern name for Jesus - and not much else. The story is subversive and follows a disenchanted man called Trafford Sewell as he searches for answers, truth and meaning to his life. It's fantastic, and not just because the grammar problems that seemed to plague Elton in his early career - Popcorn seemed to suffer like this as well - but because he's just developed a huge amount.

The plot is tighter, with more focus given to a smaller group of central characters to concentrate on rather than the constant jumping between peripheral groups of characters in short, sharp chapters. There's still not a huge amount of description, but the world is vivid and alive, full of allusions to things we know and asides that point ot things we recognise from our society that have been magnified by dozens of years of moral decay.

Speaking of pointing things out, Elton has calmed that down, too. I found that in Gridlock he'd step aside from the story when a brief mention of something sparked him off and spend a page or two ranting about a chosen topic. It wouldn't link back to the plot or the characters and felt hugely misplaced. While he still makes points about his moral standing in later books, like Blind Faith, it's with subtlety and is tied into the events of the story, so well sometimes that you don't even notice it happening, certainly not as something that felt so detached from the prose previously.

It's heartening that such an improvement has taken place - taking good books and making them into great ones. Hopefully it'll continue!


bethy* said...

i have as much love for ben elton as you do for amy winehouse. nuff said!

Mike said...

So, what's wrong with Ben Elton? You've never actually told me.. :p

bethy * said...

i just dont find him funny . just like you dont find amy winehouse talented

Mike said...

lol makes sense i suppose :p