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on 12 January 2008
No-one would disagree that Ben Elton is a masterful observer of contemporary society. Once again here, he taps into the frustration with the X factor/Pop idol culture that seems to have dominated our "empty lives" in the last few years.

His observations are shrewd, funny and probably altogether true. You'll certainly never take another episode of these dire programmes seriously!!

The problem is that, once the jokes have been told, there is very little else here and the book drags on and on. The plot is flimsy, unfulfilling and ultimately fairly silly (without being clever) and you warm to none of the characters leaving you caring nothing about what happens to any of them.

Sometimes I think that the Ben Elton book machine latches onto the subject du jour much as a stand up comic plan his latest routine. Unfortunately, the book has to be readable and gripping as well and here, with Chart Throb, Mr Elton fails.
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on 10 June 2007
Chart Throb is Ben Elton in full satire mode. This time, the likes of reality TV shows like Pop Idol, The X Factor and The Osbournes deservedly come under fire. Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne are the stars of the show, although they're given new names and Mrs. Osbourne has been made a transsexual for the benefits of the story. It's stated unambiguously - and rather clumsily - early in the story that the book's characters have nothing to do with their real life counterparts, but Mr. Elton is fooling nobody. Calvin 'Cowell' Simms is a cynical media genius, Rodney 'Walsh' Root is a desperately status-sensitive failure, and Beryl 'Osbourne' Blenheim is an equally cynical fraud who plays the nuturing mother only when the cameras are rolling on her and/or her family.

It's hard to say where Chart Throb exposes the truth about exploitative shows like The X Factor and where the book's eponymous TV program is a far more exaggerated, cruelly cynical form of the shows it righteously pardoies. Mr. Elton is more privy to life behind the cameras than you or I; a short note at the end of the book letting us know from where he drew his inspirations might have made even more interesting reading.

As some of the other reviewers have pointed Mr. Elton does overplay certain jokes in Chart Throb. The vacuous, "keep dreaming the dream, babes" reality TV soundbites are funny the first few times they are repeated to show them in their full, trite witlessness. However, these same catchphrases are used whenever a camera is turned onto any one of the Chart Throb culprits/victims, which is to say almost constantly. The satire becomes as overused as the subject matter.

In spite of this book's flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ben Elton's observations of human nature at its most vulnerable, venal, exploitative, ambitious, desperate and vengeful are never so good as when they're in print and it's this hallmark that gives Chart Throb its strength. I kept my eye out for Mr. Elton's other trademark - the (often multiple) twist at the end of the tale. However, even forwarned, I wouldn't have seen the book's conclusion coming in a month of Sundays. Although in my defence, it was a little far-fetched.

So, buy the book? Go on, you might as well. At the time of writing, my local newsagents is running a two-for-one on paperback bestsellers, so I got this for a relative bargain. I'd say I'd got more than my money's worth.
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A huge fan of Ben Elton's writings (Dead Famous, Popcorn and First Casualty in particular), I had rather looked forward to reading this, especially as it returns to the world of reality TV so brilliantly exposed in Dead Famous.

Unfortunately, this just doesn't quite pack the punch that I was expecting. That's not to say it's a bad read, in places it manages to scale the heights, it's just not that consistent and has a few low points. By another authors standards this would be acceptable, but judged against the incredibly high standards of Ben's other books it doesn't compare well.

There are two main problems: Firstly, the nature of the target being shot down. X-Factor and its imitators might seem like and easy target, but in fact they are so ridiculous in real life that it is hard to satirise them. Ben does his best, but this is a task just beyond even his great skill. Secondly, the characterisations. In real life Cowell and his cronies are almost caricatures, to try and satirise them Ben has had to create a series of characters that take their characteristics and makes them even more ridiculous. This is a serious problem, part of the beauty of Ben's other works is that he creates characters that are believable, and you can relate to. Here the characters are totally unbelievable, and you thus stop believing in the world he has created.

There are high points, the book provides a valuable insight to how reality shows work and are created. The general plot and expose of the cynical machinations are interesting and well put together. The language and structure are up to Ben's usual high standards, which lifts the whole thing.

All in all a good try, and perfectly readable, but not Ben's best. For a better attempt at reality TV read Dead Famous.
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on 17 December 2007
If there is anything that deserves to be criticised on TV its `The X Factor', and Ben Elton does this in a Scathing fashion in `Chart Throb'. Calvin is a Simon Cowell homage who is the creator of a TV show that sees the public sing in front of three judges in the hope of realising their dreams. In the book we discover the truth behind these `reality' TV shows as Calvin and company manipulate the edit to make their favourites win. However, with the recent 3rd series Calvin has more than usual at stake. His new wife wants a divorce and to stop her taking half his fortune he must win a bet they have just made. Can Calvin really manipulate the public to vote for anyone he chooses? Even the Prince of Wales?

`Chart Throb' is a book that holds nothing back. It is one of the most scathing books that I have ever read and reveals shows like `The X Factor' to be the scams that they are. Although it is based on a fictional TV show called Chart Throb, the similarities between the characters and the judges on `X Factor' are clear. I have mixed reservations about this book as I enjoyed the attacks that Elton portrayed but I felt this meant that there were no likable characters in the book. By the end it just felt too cynical to me and the light relief was not enough. Added to this is an issue with the pacing, too much time is spent on the initial set up of characters just for their conclusions to be batted away. Overall, I did find this an enjoyable, if angry, book. I would recommend it to anyone who is fed up with the current crop of rubbish TV and are looking to read someone venting their spleen about it.
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on 30 October 2007
If you have ever been a fan of any reality TV show, escpecially X-Factor, then you'll find that this book a brilliant read. I can't watch X-Factor anymore beacuse Elton completly shatters all the illusions that Simon Cowell and his producation company try to create. The actual fakeness behind 'reality' TV is uncovered throughout this satirical novel. Sharon Osbourne is shown to be a completely psychotic, egotistical, surgery obsessed, cow. Louis Walsh is made out to have no backbone- only ever doing and saying whatever Simon Cowell tells him. Simon Cowell himself is a pompous idiot who thinks the public are a bunch of morons because he can make them believe anything. Once you've read this- you realise its all true! X-Factor (or 'Chart Throb') is shown to be completely scripted, and the winners are shown to be pre-picked. The contestants are picked because of their desperation or lack of mental normality, rather than their musical talent. Elton goes through the whole X-Factor experience and picks it apart piece by piece.
The only criticsm about this novel is that once Elton has told you it is all fake and that the contestants are all picked for their moronic value, he then goes on to tell you this over and over again. Many paragraphs and pages are a waste of time because he has said them many times before. With the repetition cut out of the novel it would be half as long and would become more concise and to the point rather than just going over the same point over and over again. Still a very funny and quite eye-opening read though!
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VINE VOICEon 31 January 2007
I was looking forward to reading this book, having read most of Ben Elton's early books and enjoyed his satirical look at sections of modern life (although seem to have missed the last few books).

I don't avidly watch the Pop Idol/X Factor shows but I keep up to date with how they work and who is in them, so thought that Ben Elton's view on this would be intersting.

I found that he approached the target in a way that I thought was very lazy. The characters were just exaggerated versions of the real shows rather than taking the TV talent show idea and looking at it as a whole, which could have had more potential. Almost every character and comment was critical of the whole idea without taking into consideration that this type of show provides entertainment for millions of people - don't think I'm standing up for talent shows but they do influence the remote controls on Saturday nights!!

The 3 judges were offensive characters and, if I was Simon Cowell, Sharon Osborne or Louis Walsh, I would be insulted.

There was a bit of a plot through the book but really wasn't worth even thinking about.

Don't waste your time reading.
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on 7 September 2009
What better way to celebrate the launch of the new series of the X Factor than reading Chart Throb, a thinly-disguised satire of reality TV pop "talent" shows. With the contestants categorised behind the scenes as mingers, blingers and clingers rather than singers and clever editing used to heighten their vulnerabilities and influence the voting, the fiction is only a slight exaggeration of the fact.

As usual Ben Elton captures the zeitgeist excellently in this fast-moving page-turner with a plethora of little comments as we go showing his incredible perception. Perhaps it's a little too fast-moving as my only criticisms are that the last 100 or so pages about the televised part of the contest seem a little rushed and the twist at the end of the story is unrealistic, unclimactic and ineffective.

An uncharacteristically poor ending aside, Chart Throb is an excellent, contemporary read which only just exaggerates the modern entertainment phenomenon which is reality TV.
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on 15 August 2007
This novel doesn't work on so many levels. The only thing in its favour is that Elton obviously has a very good insight into the machinations of the television industry, which is hardly a compliment given that he has spent 25+ years working in it, and it would be worrying if he didn't.

Other than that, it is quite appalling. All he has done is watched a series of the X-Factor, transcribed it and changed the names. The audition and Pop School sketches are lifted word for word from X-Factor, even the contestants are so blantantly based on real contestants (sorry any US readers - this will mean very little to you) the Quasar is obviously Chico, Bloke - Journey South - Graham and Millicent - 2 to Go (from the first series), Blossom-Brenda Edwards, I could go on.

The whole Beryl Blenheim thing doesn't work, it just smacks of Elton trying anything to distance her from Sharon Osbourne (I presume because Mrs O would sue the pants off of him), and so he has given her Sharon's lines, Sharon's family (oh except she has two daughters-how radical and an incoherent, mumbling wife instead of Ozzy Osbourne) but made one major change. I'm sorry, I know we live in more enlightened times and due to Hayley in Corrie (once again sorry US readers) transexual people are more accepted, but even in this day and age, Beryl would be more known for her sex change and no-one would buy the sexy mother routine who is given jobs advertising supermarkets (Mrs O again).

Then of course we come to the Prince of Wales. It's a known fact that Mr Elton is chums with the royals (oh dear and he used to be so Right On) and I can't help but feel this is all a bit of a PR stunt to make Prince Charles seem nothing more than a bumbling idiot who is swept along by those around him, so whatever criticisms are levelled towards him regarding his former wife or any other misdemeanors he may be guilty of, can be disregarded because this book clearly makes him look like a prat who doesn't know his own mind. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant, but it makes this ludicrous story all the more unreadable.

This is my first Ben Elton book and it will be my last. It saddens me that this has come from the same hand that wrote Blackadder, the Young Ones etc. I think some people should retire once middle age strikes.
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on 30 July 2007
If you, like me, are a fan of Ben Elton's writing, you will be disappointed. Chart Throb is based on the X Factor type reality shows in the same way that Dead Famous was based on Big Brother. I loved Dead Famous and would highly recommend that book, but Chart Throb probably lets itself down by being too realistic! It's just like watching one of these reality shows and let's face it, they are just so boring now because they have been overdone - there are just too many of them and every time we turn on the TV there is some kind of show about people who want to be famous. Ben Elton's main characters in this book are not original either, they are just caricatures of actual judges on the X Factor or similar shows. The book is funny but not funny enough and you have to read through a lot of boring pages to get to funny bits. There are not really any new jokes, as they've all been done before, and I got the feeling that Ben didn't really try hard enough with this book. I'm also sad to say that it will make me think twice about buying any of his future books.
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on 27 October 2007
I am aware that this is designed to be a satire of X factor but my problem is that the joke wears a bit thin very early in the book and from then on in Elton runs out of things to say and just repeats himself.

We understand very early that the judges only have a handful of reactions to the songs they hear (you owned that song etc...) and that in the book bad songs are chosen for the acts that the Calvin Simms (the Simon Cowell type character) wants to drop. It is a tale of media manipulation but the characters are so one dimensional that it is hard to care what happens to any of them.

I understand that Elton is trying to make the characters more extreme than the people on the TV show that he is ridiculing but as the X factor is a bit like a pantomime to start with he just ends up with the most unbelievable caricatures. A very disappointing offering.
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