Friday 24 October 2008

Book Review: Ben Elton – Dead Famous

The front of this book proclaims in large letters: “No.1 Bestseller”. This usually doesn’t mean much for me, except that the supermarkets have had it on sale in a prominent place for a reduced price. I had to concede in Ben Elton’s case though, that he can be a good read and covers an interesting mix of subjects. Kooky Little Sister and a colleague both recommended this particular book so I thought I would have a go at it.

Each of Elton’s books chooses a different theme and genre: drugs, environment, internet, infertility the detective novel, a thriller, and looks at the issue from numerous perspectives. In this case we have the reality TV phenomenon within a whodunit novel. The novel is based around a television programme called House Arrest (a thinly-veiled portrayal of the UK’s revolting Big Brother programme) and centres on a group of young people living in a television house and being watched by the nation. The Police are called in to investigate when one of the group is murdered in full view of the nation, despite which no-one can work out who the murderer is.

The novel is really a satire, lampooning reality TV, the greed of television companies and the willingness of the public to behave like a baying mob. No-one is spared – the newspapers, politicians, the Police and especially not the young contestants. Being a spoof, Elton exaggerates the language a little, so that almost everyone under thirty speaks a kind of exaggerated MTV-peak. Anyone over thirty is shown as trying to emulate this (badly) and making fools of themselves. The characters are shown to have absolutely no self-awareness at all, no sense of how excruciating they can be at times. I also got tired of how shallow and brainless young people were being portrayed as and after a while the slangy dialogue began to irritate me. We might throw in the odd “cool” or “buff” but most of do not speak ordinarily like this:

‘Big up to yez,’ said the hip late-night girl, welcoming Geraldine on to the programme. ‘Cracking first week in the house. We like that.’
‘Top telly that woman!’ said the hip late-night guy.
‘Respect. Fair play to yez.’
‘Go Woggle, yeah!’ said the girl. ‘We so like Woggle.’
‘He da man!’ said the guy. ‘Who da man?’
‘He da man!’ said the girl. ‘Woggle, he da man!’

The language didn’t quite feel authentic, at the very least it felt as if slang from different decades and groups (rappers, hippies, yuppies) was being mixed up. Having said all of these things though, this was a storming mystery. Right up until the end of the book, I could not work out who the murderer was. I suspected every character, yet could not decide on a single one. The second half of the book had me hooked. I started reading on the bus home, then asked the kids to “play for a bit, I just need to finish this book” – I spent the next hour lost to everything around me, bent on finding out who the killer was and how he committed the murder.

I suppose, not quite one for the “must-read” list, but a good book if you don’t mind the coarse language, although if you do want to try one of Ben Elton’s books, I would recommend High Society the most.

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