High Society by Ben Elton

highsocietySome time ago, mostly during my university years I read several novels by Ben Elton, so I presume I must have liked his books quite a bit, otherwise I wouldn’t have read so many of them. Anyway, a couple of years passed since then, and now I mostly remember that a Ben Elton novel is an excellent choice when you’re waiting for an exam to start; or when your brain is muddled for some reason and you find it difficult to think clearly; or in any situation when it’s impossible to really pay attention to a book but you must pass the time somehow. By the way, I always suspected that Elton’s novels are disposable, but I wanted to find out for sure if this is really the case, and I had some time on my hands when I wouldn’t have been able to pay attention to a „proper” book anyway, so I went ahead and re-read one of his novels. I chose High Society because I had some vague recollections that I used to consider it as one of Elton’s better efforts.

As it turned out, I was right – Ben Elton is indeed rather amusing in his own frightfully pedantic, spoon-feeding way, and he can weave a plot with wonderful ease (so this is a book I would normally read in one sitting because it’s virtually unputdownable), but the novel is absolutely transparent, with no depths or intricacies, and a second reading offers exactly the same results as the first. (In a way this is okay – I could at least pass some time with the book again.)

So, getting down to High Society then. The protagonist is an unknown backbencher who comes up with the radical idea that all drugs should immediately be legalized in England because everyone is doing drugs anyway, and if people could get them legally, crime rates would drop by 90% and also, the state would get a lot of tax money. The main plot-line follows the actions and fights of this backbencher who wants to get support for his bill, and with a lot of work, he slowly manages to make the bill popular – but this is not how the story ends.

Besides a whole lot of parliamentary debates and political manoeuvres, there’s a bunch of (awfully instructive and tale-like) other plot-lines where we get acquainted with several characters whose life was ruined by drugs one way or another. For instance, there’s the English chick who tries to smuggle some drugs from Thailand to England for the first time in her life, and gets caught. Then there’s the popular rock singer who destroys his health and career in about two years because he consumes an unbelievable amount of drugs. And then there’s another young girl who runs away from home and ends up being a crack whore within just a couple of days.

I try not to be unnecessarily ironic. Of course my heart’s not made of stone, and I’m aware that dreadful things can happen to human beings because of drug-taking and because of the crime and violence associated with it – but I can’t stand Elton’s brand of preaching and spoon-feeding style without irony. Because Elton’s characters are not really characters, and his stories are not really stories – in his novels, the characters and stories are just illustrations Elton uses in order to make me understand what he thinks is wrong with today’s drug politics and how he would like to change the drug-related legislation in England. (I’m not mixing up Elton and his protagonist – it’s only that I always feel when I read one of his books that his novels are never really about the beliefs of the characters but about the beliefs of Elton himself, which he – for some unknown reason – moulds into the shape of a novel.)

And naturally, I understand what Elton says, but I’m not exactly satisfied because I prefer reading about „real” characters in a novel, and not about puppets whose only function is to illustrate some point the author wishes to make. Anyway, I suspect that I get much more easily irritated by didactic-preaching literature nowadays, so considering my current taste in books (which is, of course, subject to change) I would say that Elton’s novels are not only disposable – they can be skipped right away. I’m pretty sure this is what I’m going to do in the future.

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