Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Meltdown by Ben Elton

Meltdown is the thirteenth novel from one of Britain's most well-known writers Ben Elton. Included in his repertoire is the hugely successful musical We Will Rock You, plus the classic British comedies Blackadder and The Young Ones. His early novels gained overall good reviews and whenever a new book appears penned by him it'll enter the top ten. Meltdown was released in 2010 and revolves around a set of friends and their meteoric rise, and the subsequent fall due to the 'credit crunch'.
I've only ever read one Ben Elton book before, Chart Throb, and I never finished it. It wasn't bad but just forgettable. Meltdown had been sitting on my wife's bedside table for ages so one night I picked it up. The story revolves around a group of friends, with Jimmy taking the lead. This group of friends all met at University and the chapters flit back and forth between their time there and all the important bits in between until the current day. The five men who met at Uni have all in one way or another become successful and some ridiculously rich. Jimmy is in the Stock Market, Rupert is the head of a bank, David is a famous architect, Henry is an up and coming politician and Robbo, who is slightly different to the others, simply enjoys life and has found a successful wife. Jimmy has a beautiful wife with three children and a live-in nanny, then, the money disappears. The credit crunch arrives.
Ben Elton has written Rupert as an elitist snob, Henry as a bumbling politician and Jimmy as a Jack-the-lad. The problem is, they are all really irritating. Throughout, Rupert and Henry annoyed me and not once did I like being in their company. The worst part though was that Jimmy, the protagonist, is just as exasperating. He make's stupid decisions throughout. Several times I almost left the book but I persevered, with little gained at the finale. Robbo is the only one in the group who I could relate to as although I've said he's found a successful wife, he didn't go out searching for one and doesn't really live off of her. The wives of the group are a little better. Jimmy's wife Monica struggles with raising her kids once she can no longer afford the nanny and being a dad myself to a 2 year old, several of the scenes rung very true to me; toys splayed out everywhere, getting them to sleep at the proper time and enjoying the hour or two before your own bedtime approaches, only to be woken 5 minutes later by a screaming baby.
Ben Elton
As the book approaches the end it starts to feel like Elton is trying to cram as many ideas into it as possible. Insider Trading, Arson, Murder, Suicide, it all gets a bit silly. The book is light hearted but it seemed to me to drag a very thin plot to the end of it's considerable 382 pages. I simply didn't care when everything went tits up for Jimmy and I thought he got what he deserved, and when more misery was piled on top of him such as his young son having to leave private school to go to public school, I wanted to reach into the pages and punch Jimmy for being a snob. Although that's what the entire book is all about, realising life is more than money, being made to sit through page on page of a supercilious arse was literary agony. There were two stand out paragraphs that I thought were excellent regarding getting his daughter to sleep, again due to my recent addition to the parent club, but those alone failed to save the book.
I enjoyed Chart Throb a hundred times more so I won't be writing Ben Elton off as yet but Meltdown still gets a lowly 3 from me on the comfometer.

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