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a dark, dark dystopian satire
on 11 August 2008
Purely by chance, I read this novel shortly after completing The Book Of Dave by Will Self. Both novels use an imagined dystopian future England, decimated after severe flooding covers half the country, for a satire about the state of the nation today. As both novels appeared around the same time, this is clearly a coincidence; both Self and Elton aim at many of the same targets, but while Self's satire is like the point of a dagger skilfully skewering his targets, Ben Elton prefers the repeated hammering over the head with a blunt instrument.
Not that there is anything wrong with this. Elton has addressed the vacuousness of modern life before, and he doesn't spare his anger here. Ben Elton, like Will Self, sets his aim squarely at religious dogmatism. He is clearly horrified by the rise in creationism in the USA, which is starting to make its presence felt in the UK, and takes this to its logical conclusion, where science and rationality are rejected in favour of the titular 'blind faith' and a 'me' culture.
The first thing you should know about this novel is that it isn't funny. At all. Anyone familiar with Ben Elton's work will know that he uses comic situations to address serious issues; there is precious little to laugh about in Blind Faith, just a growing horror as the fast-paced plot drags you in.
It is about 100 years in the future. After a flood, Britain has become a much smaller country. People not only live and work in extraordinary proximity to one another, but are ruled by a religious fanaticism where privacy is frowned upon and belief in evolution- in reason of any kind- is banned. Furthermore, every aspect of one's life is required to be posted online. But Trafford, our protagonist, has the makings of a dangerous subversive- he has a secret.
The plot similarity to 1984 is obvious, and Elton doesn't try to hide it, namechecking Orwell's work more than once. This is not a problem for me; the updating for a modern world is perfect, each target bringing a knowing nod from the reader. Ultimately, the despair in the story is equal to anything Orwell could think up; Elton does show us a chink of light at the close, but be warned it arrives at the end of a very long, dark tunnel.
As always with Elton, Blind Faith is a well-plotted easy read. However, for me the jaunty tone of the early chapters sits uneasily with the dark and cruel nature of the concluding section and as such I would not place it amongst his best work.