Drugs are the scourge of society. But rather than committing already stretched police resources to solving the problem, why not legalise all drugs? Not just cannabis but heroin, cocaine and E. This is the central premise at the heart of Ben Elton’s new book, a typically vituperative attack on this country’s draconian drug laws.
Writing with a passion and fervour that he hasn’t evidenced in a long time, Elton patiently sets out his argument, using a multitude of characters, and a wonderfully flowing style, without traditional chapters. The main story deals with a government back-bencher’s attempts to get his private member’s bill introduced - a bill to legalise drugs. It gives Elton a marvellous backdrop onto which to paint his story, a story in which everyone takes drugs, the media are nothing but a pack of ravenous jackals and the general public is only interested in sound bytes and celebrities. A story which deals with prostitution, corrupt police and gangsters.
There’s a danger that a story this complex could run away from an author, but Elton is to suave for that, letting many of the stories unfold in the character’s own words. It’s a wonderfully fluent piece of work, with characters that, although obvious characatures, still elicit strong emotion from the reader. If it seems bleak, it’s because this is a bleak subject, but Elton’s customary humour and satire are there to lighten the load.
There are caveats, of course. The prose does lapse into preachiness at times (a side-effect of the author’s fervour) and, of course, not everyone will agree with the points that he raises.
But even taking that into consideration, this is a wonderfully well thought out and realised book, which feels so “now” you’ll swear it was written last week. It’s a fine return to form for an author who, after such powerful books as “Gridlock” and “This Other Eden” was beginning to look as if he’d gone a little soft. It’s a book that should be compulsory reading for every politician and newspaper editor, not to mention every parent and teacher. Read this first, then read the equally superb “Out of It” by Stuart Walton, a book that more scientifically puts forth the reasons for legalisation.