Between the Covers


Ben Elton

UK comedian and author Ben Elton has a knack of capturing the zeitgeist. Over recent years we have had Dead Famous, a spoof of Big Brother, Chartthrob, which satirises shows like Australian Idol and Blind Faith, which shows what can ensue when internet chat goes too far. Meltdown is his timely take on the global financial crisis.

Meltdown follows the rise and fall of amiable London futures trader, Jimmy and his chums. The boom years give Jimmy the usual trappings of success: a lovely wife and fab mansion with gym, Jacuzzi and indoor lift. When the market drops Jimmy and Monica find themselves paupers living in a mansion they no longer own. Monica, who used to call herself a ‘part-time charity worker and full-time mum’, finds this role somewhat more demanding when the nanny, cook and cleaner are let go.

Meanwhile, his university friends also fall one by one into hard times. Even Henry, an MP who you might expect to be immune from the monetary crisis, comes under fire from the media for bogus expense claims. The much-loved Robbo drives into a wall and police grill the villain of the piece, Rupert, about insider trading.

Meltdown is a pacy page turner with plenty of the amusing banter you’d expect from the script writer of series such as The Young Ones and Blackadder. I read it quickly and found it entertaining, but I’ll confess to some disappointment. The characters just didn’t grab me. It was hard to sympathise with any of them, even the central ones, Jimmy and Monica. The plot was fairly predictable and the writing lacked the sparkle of some of Elton’s previous works. I also felt that the satire, for example of people attending the ‘End Poverty’ concert, was a little trite. On the positive side, I did learn quite a lot about futures trading.

Perhaps Elton bashed this one out a bit too quickly to capture the moment before it was gone. Nonetheless he delivers funny lines on cue and his biting comments on the public versus private education systems are as topical here as in England.

For those who haven’t read Elton before, I’d recommend starting with one of his earlier works such as Popcorn. I still think he could do something fabulous with Masterchef though. Is it mint, or spearmint? Priceless.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and the Lismore Shopping Square.

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