Ah, the first novel of Ben Elton... comedian, comic genius behind such hilarities as The Young Ones and Blackadder, and, after this and some of his other gems, man with an environmental conscience. I loved Stark so much that before long my copy had no front cover... and then slowly dissolved from over reading and over lending. Granted, I was an idealistic young thing at the time with an environmental preoccupation... but still, that’s a fairly good sign. Furthermore, proud Fremantle rumour has it that Mr Elton scribed this book while sitting at Gino’s making notes on a paper napkin, and while I’m not overly convinced that this is the absolute truth, there are some characters lurking about the pages of Stark that made me think that maybe Ben was drawing inspiration from some real-life members of the Gino’s community.
Okay, this story has all the elements of a goodie... the main character, a drippy and terminally uncool young Englishman residing in the south of Western Australia, uncovers a fiendish plot by the richest men and women on earth as to how they will deal with the earth’s demise from pollution. How can CJ help save the world when all the environmentalists just want to sit around smoking incense and chanting? In what is now considered classic Elton style, the novel follows the individual stories of several characters and how they all interact together. His characterisation is quite ingenious in that all his characters have a streak of humanity... weakness and foibles and bravery and selflessness. He taps into an element of quintessential human-ness—there are no exceptional heros here, just people. Because this was Ben Elton’s first novel, his metaphors (to do with monks and cement and erections, for example) weren’t so used. Also, in his later writings he seems to have developed a bitterness about humanity and the way he writes his characters... that isn’t present in his earlier work. At the time of publication (1989) the environmental issue wasn’t the huge deal it is today, and it’s a great thing to produce a work of popular fiction to help bring it into the public consciousness. And, while sometimes he does bang on a bit (how many pages can you write about cats shitting in gardens? I mean, really) I loved this book at the time of reading and I still have a soft spot for it.
There aren’t many people around who hate Ben Elton. And everybody loves a bit of dry and occasionally crass British wit, combined with a sharp insight into human nature that makes you feel both ashamed and pleased to be able to identify with the characters. This book is good for anyone who can identify with a British sense of humor and wants a light read that doesn’t involve switching off your brain.
Try another of Ben Elton’s books! He has lots. If you read them all at once, then you may well get a bit sick of him, but if you space them out and don’t overdo it you’ll be right. Of a similar sense of humour but not weighed down with environmental issues are of course those other irrepressible British authors Douglas Adams and the Grant-Naylor combo.
|Publisher:||Time Warner Paperbacks|