Blast From The Past Paperback – 15 Jul 1999
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It's 2.15 a.m. and the phone wakes you. Only someone bad would ring you at such an hour, or someone with bad news, which would probably be worse. You hear the answer-machine kick in and feel your heart beat. You listen. And then you hear the voice you least expect - a blast from the past."
Blast From The Past is the fifth novel from Ben Elton, the celebrated and controversial comedian/playwright/author whose TV credits include The Young Ones and Blackadder as well as the previous novels Stark and Popcorn. Jack Kent, US Captain stationed at Greenham Common during the early eighties, has a secret and unlikely affair with the Polly Sacred Cycle of the Womb and Moon, a 17-year-old ideological peace protester:
the star-crossed lovers made Romeo and Juliet look like an arranged marriage! Pamela Anderson and the Ayatollah Khomeni would have made a more natural-looking couple.Sixteen years later and a four star General, Kent returns to Britain to seek out his only true love. Polly, now a lonely thirtysomething Equal Opportunities employee, is being stalked by the Bug when the phone rings.
Set in the staid, politically-correct nineties of New Labour Britain, the story flashes back with comic effect to the early eighties, a time of protest, strikes and Cold War. While hardcore Elton fans might be disappointed with the weak plot and smaller helpings of piercing wit and wacky socio-political observations, Blast from the Past still offers up some laugh-out-loud lines and entertaining reading. --Andrew Crawford --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Only Ben Elton could combine uncomfortable questions about gender politics with a gripping, page-turning narrative and jokes that make you laugh out loud" (Tony Parsons, author of Man and Boy)
"Elton at his most outrageously entertaining" (Cosmopolitan)
"The action is tight and well-plotted, the dialogue is punchy, and the whole thing rolls along so nicely" (Guardian)
"A lively thriller of sexual politics and morality. Elton's best book yet" (Elle)
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It tells the story of a Polly - a principled 17 year old feminist leftwing peacenik who hates nuclear weapons and campaigns outside Greenham Common in the 1980s - and Jack, a high ranking rightwing US soldier in his 30s. They meet, bizarrely fall in love but then after a summer of love Jack leaves her. Suspense is provided by the 'Bug', a man obsessed by Polly who watches her and is determined to possess her no matter what. The novel charts his obsession as a sideline to Polly and Jack's relationship, his departure and his subsequent surprise arrival on her doorstep 16 years after he left her.
I'm reading Ben Elton's novels in the order they were published and this is his worst to date - why?
It is written adequately enough but the problem is that it is just not funny enough for a comic novel, nor is it gripping enough for a suspense novel. Yes it does have jokes but nowhere near as many as Stark or Gridlock - whole chapters fly by between them - and in a comic novel a joke every 10 to 15 pages is not enough. Moreover, the suspense formed by the Bug wanting Polly only takes off in the last 75 pages of the novel, and this is a BIG problem.
This story would work well as a short story because endless conversations between two people about the same subject ('Why have you returned, Jack?') cannot be sustained over 350 pages. There are only three main characters yet Ben Elton is still afflicted with his problem of excessive wording and poor editing, and whereas Stark is funny but overly long (with huge sections of samey samey leftwing sentiments), Blast From The Past is overly long with fewer jokes and far too much dialogue.
Most of these chapters are conversations going over the same ground, and it would have been far more effective (and less tedious for the reader) had this been accomplished in fewer chapters.
The narrator viewpoint switches at whim from Polly to Jack and back again, so we are never clear who we are supposed to be sympathetic for (if any). To compound matters, instead of showing us how the characters feel through dialogue and body language, we are constantly TOLD what they feel, which is both clumsy and annoying.
It's a shame because Ben Elton can write better suspense (Popcorn) and can also write funnier jokes (Stark). Stick with these and avoid Blast From The Past.
Having said all that, Ben Elton's writing is quite easy to read, and although this book left me feeling unsatisfied, I managed to get through it reasonably easily.
The story is set around a phone call Polly received in the early hours of the morning. From here it hives off into a range of story lines, some happening at the present time and some being flashbacks to major characters pasts.
The main interactions in the book are between Polly, Captain Jack Kent and the completely unnecessary "Bug" who Polly has named as such due to his penchant for stalking her. Her attempt to impersonalise him is admirable, but in all honest completely irrelevant, just as he is as a character.
Books like this that only cover a very short space of time often suffer from either going too fast or too slow. An example of a book that avoided these pit falls is Cathedral by Nelson Demille - an excellent read. Blast From The Past in my mind avoids this problem as well by traversing the ages and looking back at characters past lives, this however loses some of the momentum the main story line has and in my mind chips away at the quality of the book. Ben Elton insists on splicing stories chapter by chapter and doesn't really allow me to get into the book, this is where a longer more thoughtful novel could have succeeded
Overall I have read a lot worse, its interesting in concept and certainly entertaining in parts, I have however read better Ben Elton's, and in all honesty, just better books overall.
Having finished the book, however, I felt utterly cheated. Without ruining the ending, a darkly humourous tale that spans only a couple of hours (the book is built largely from flashbacks) is ruined by the last page and a half that somehow contrives to lessen the depressing nature of the important relationships in the book.
It doesn't work. The reader is force-fed a completely unforeseen fairy tale, just so that you don't feel sad.
It's a good book, and until the last page I was longing to find out what happened. When I did, I wished that the last page had been ripped out by a malevolent shopkeeper.
Despite the politically and socially topical nature of the plot, the story is lifted by the characteristic observational humuour of Elton. This is where I felt slightly cheated. As a longstanding fan of Ben Elton, I had heard/read it all before, to the point where it was no longer funny.
If this is your first introduction to Elton as a writer, or you liked all his other books, you will probably love this. But if you've seen him in stand-up then watch out, there is nothing new here!
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