There can't be too many social issues left which Ben Elton hasn't sought to address in a novel, but his take on the UK's drug culture has to be one of the most ambitious to date. A large cast of characters enable Elton to approach the issue from several angles. The main protagonists include a backbench Labour MP, Peter Paget, who is seeking to introduce a bold Private Members' Bill for the legalisation of all drugs; a teenage runaway, Jessie, forced into heroin addiction and prostitution; and a kind of post-Robbie Williams beloved bad boy of pop music type character (and winner of a TV show called, amusingly, "Pop Hero"), Tommy Hanson. The characters are cleverly drawn and don't at any time descend into stereotype - Jessie in particular is an appealingly memorable character and Ben Elton resists the temptation, despite her undeniably tragic situation, to portray her simply as a victim.
The stage is therefore set for a well constructed comedy/drama the outcomes of which are never predictable and which finishes, rather oddly, in a very unlikely love story. There are many pleasingly sharp observations on the political climate and the media in particular which clearly demonstrate that Elton, though no longer the stand-up comic in the sparkly suit, has not lost his talent for witty social observation.
Ben Elton's vision is bleak in many respects and some scenarios do leave a bitter aftertaste. If his aim was to advocate, like Peter Paget, for the legalisation of drugs, I didn't come away entirely convinced in spite of some persuasive arguments. However the book is undeniably a good read and does provide food for thought. Elton's writing style and plotting has certainly improved since the publication of his first novel, and in "High Society" he has created an intelligent, unflinching and probably overdue comment on a critically important issue.