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.
on 2 January 2008
Many of the other reviewers have compared this book with Orwell's 1984 and without a doubt there are parallels. But what Elton also brings into play is an analysis of the current rise of religious fundamentalism and its rejection of science and logic. As well as being set in a post apocalypse police state this novel is also set in a world that has reverted to the dark ages where science is outlawed and faith is all that is to be believed.
A preview of a post global-warming world. The possible conclusion of today's FaceBook/You Tube and reality TV fixation. And a total denunciation of the mindlessness of reactionary religion. All in an easy to read and fast paced novel.
on 26 December 2012
When God gave out "subtlety" Ben was at the end of the queue. However, he didn't have to wait long at the "cynicism" line, and he uses both to maximum effect in "Blind Faith". Elton sets this book in the future so that he can take a swipe, or a sledgehammer, at the way our current society is going. He invents a world that takes Orwell's 1984, crosses it with Big Brother (TV version), Jerry Springer, the Evangelical Right, the X Factor, our fast food culture, the self-help industry....you name a small annoyance in our current shallow and vacuous Western World and Elton pours bile and scorn over the lot if it. And entertaining it is too, but it's a bit of a Curate's Egg. It's not difficult to believe that in the near future the Virgin Mary will be replaced by Lady Diana in the religious canon, nor that parents will name their kids something like Caitlain Happymeal, but the relentless succession of such constructs begins to irritate after a while. So does his portrayal of the rebellion against this society. Guess what? Intelligent people like real books, revere science above religion, hate mindless television and prefer solitary reflection to the crush of crowd.
If you're thinking of reading this, then you probably know what to expect from the author. Ben Elton, it seems to me, would like to write a modern day "Crime and Punishment" or "Brave New World" but just wouldn't be able to resist slipping in a few fart and knob gags. He also lays on his message with a trowel, and it's a trowel the size of a football pitch. If you can forgive him this, then you'll enjoy "Blind Faith".
on 12 November 2007
A previous reviewer noted that this book was a mediocre rip off of 1984. I disagree. For me, 1984 doesn't read as a satire. This book does and Ben Elton is a master of satire.
I agree that it is a view of the future that is more relevant to the Facebook generation and just as 1984 rings (alarm) bells, so does it.
5 stars is a book that marks me for life. 4 is a though provoking and entertaining read. It's both.
I thought in recent novels that Ben Elton has gone off the boil somewhat, so I was pleasantly surprised to find another biting satire on life and the universe.
Mind you getting through the jacket blurb as a bit like wading through porridge. "Ben Elton's dark, savagely comic novel imagines a post-apocalyptic society" and that's enough to put you off for starters. My initial thought was "oh no not another 1984 rip off."
Thankfully Elton stretched the bounds of 1984 with some delicious black humour and a wicked ending that brings no real surprises but certainly makes you think about inclusive and exclusive societies. Basically Elton's world occurs after the second great flood when the world (and in this case London) is celebrity and sexually obsessive - so much so that a decree goes out that everyone is famous. It is very much a 21st century view of the future.
The central character doesn't want to conform and sets out to find like minds - people who can think for themselves as opposed to the current Big Brother generation of vacuous me generation self obsessed youngsters.
We meet Cassius who is employed simply to keep up the government's targets for eliminating age discrimination Then Elton has the following to say about the internet "The internet was supposed to liberate knowledge, but in fact it buried it, first under a vast sewer of ignorance, laziness, bigotry, superstition and filth and then beneath the cloak of political surveillance."
In Elton's grave new world virtually everything that happens to a citizen is shared with everyone else through blogs, vids and other electronic means. Nothing is secret. But of course underneath it all lurks squalor and corruption. The thirst for knowledge backfires. And really anybody who uses the internet could be already part of this frightening concept (myself included).
This book is an enjoyable vision of a strange world that hopefully will never exist but at least it's more entertaining than the usual apocalypse fodder from authors that take themselves far too seriously.
on 29 December 2007
In his latest novel, Ben Elton sticks his neck out as fearlessly as if he was The Lernaean Hydra on the cusp of a beheading by Islamic extremists who have `blind faith'. Well, almost as fearlessly, because instead of attacking the bigotry of Islamic fundamentalism by name, Elton cleverly bundles all religious bigotry together into an intolerant, New Age Christianity in which Princess Diana rules heaven beside Jesus and the Virgin Mary. He doesn't mention that other God who's Great, compassionate, and merciful. This is very wise, as it increases Elton's chance of staying alive to write more novels.
`Blind Faith' uses Orwell's `Nineteen Eighty-Four' as a launch pad into a future in which people with aesthetic sensibilities have been replaced by fat uneducated Chavs with an overdeveloped sense of their right to consume. The Church has as much power in the water-logged Britain of the future, as radical Islam has in present-day Iran. The difference is that instead of being whipped for showing an ankle in public, women are expected to expose their bodies as an expression of their spirituality - and to show off their tattoos.
Elton takes current issues such as hypocrisy over paedophilia, obesity, and childhood inoculations, and imagines them taken to extremes. The result is a society in which all food contains sugar, and if you don't upload porn videos of yourself onto the net, you're depraved. The book is a hilarious satire in which the stupidity of denying education and rational argument is exposed, whilst elegantly mocking the superficial, fame-obsessed culture that results. As well as making us laugh, Elton scares us in two ways. Firstly by pointing further along the path we walk, and showing us the place we're going to. Secondly by reflecting us when we least expect it, so we can see how far we've already come. Just as I'm laughing at the way people I see as `them' are portrayed, I come across an equally poignant passage that describes my failings perfectly. I swallow my pride and admit "It's a fair cop, Ben. I'm a wanker too." `Blind Faith' presents us with a future that is worse than today. Ironically, it will be the future when Ben Elton is given the appreciation he deserves (but doesn't get) today. He's compassionate, he's merciful, and a he's great writer!
on 19 September 2008
Having just read a very turgid novel, it was a relief to read Blind Faith as a flowing original view on a futuristic society. It is a great comment on modern paranoia transgressing into a fake plastic society based on the Internet generation hooked on reality TV and dismissive of inoculation as evil. Some great Ben Elton humour throughout and another original offering - Ben's only ever written 1 book that I have not enjoyed to date (Dead Famous)
on 18 July 2010
I do feel slightly guilty for disliking things Ben Elton writes. After all, he is one of the people behind Blackadder. Unfortunately, it turns out he's not exactly a great novelist.
Blind Faith is set in a future where climate change has flooded much of the Earth, overcrowding is everpresent, and people have turned their back on science and reason. Instead, society is a voyeuristic, exhibitionist, faith-based, reality-TV like mess. Everyone live streams almost every moment of their lives on the web; everyone has videos compiled of their most private memories (losing virginities, giving birth, etc.) and is sharing them with the entire world; and faith leaders control the society with an Inquisition and barbaric methods, while people are quick to form angry mobs that turn on individuals, screaming "pedo" and tearing them apart. Oh, and everyone is overweight, all the food is full of sugar, and people practice no self-restraint and celebrate themselves all the time.
In this mess lives Trafford, a man who rather likes privacy and has a sense of dignity / shame. He has a wife. They have a baby. And one day, someone suggests he might want to commit one of the vilest crimes of all, and vaccinate her (vaccines are heresy), in order to protect her from the many, many lethal plagues that decimate children (mumps, measles, etc.)
Trafford is one of those dystopian nobody-heroes that instantly remind the reader of 1984, Brave New World, Brazil, and other classics. A completely downtrodden little unimportant cog. Fine. Something sparks, and suddenly there are deadly secrets and subversion in his life. So far so good. Unfortunately, the book falls flat in almost every other regard.
Let's start with the little things: suspension of disbelief. It's impossible. Seriously, a world as overcrowded as this society could not sustain itself. Everyone eating all the time is a nice idea, but in a flooded world, where does the food grow? Talking of floods, sure, global warming will raise sea levels, but the effects in this book are Waterworldian - far beyond the credible. Even if we believe all that, how could this society of uneducated imbeciles (at one point, a book that isn't written for children is described as a challenge) ever function? People who make or repair plasma screens, fix internet connections, design buildings, etc. etc. etc. - they all need some measure of education.
Even if we assume suspension of disbelief (thanks to a generous portion of goodwill), the book disappoints. It isn't particularly funny, nor original, and all the points it makes are so unbelievably obvious, its satire is so ham-fisted, that it feels like a book written for ten year olds. Except for the sex in it, of course.
Ben Elton is the writer who is the quickest at noticing some cultural trend, and who pounces on it, writing and publishing a novel while even our short tabloid-fuelled attention span has not wandered away. He wrote Popcorn, about Natural Born Killers and Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino style movies. He wrote Past Mortem, while Friends Reunited had not yet been dethroned by MySpace and Facebook. He wrote House Arrest, while Big Brother was still new and fashionable. You get the drift. Whatever fad starts to get noticed by tabloids, Ben Elton sniffs it out and lambasts it in a novel. Here, he concentrates his fire on social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace (I think it's called Facespace in the book), the Jerry Springer generation / experience, and anti-science backlash.
It all feels horrendously frustrating. He creates a world so he can criticise it. He creates characters so we can resent them. Fine, I resent them, but I don't read books just so I can hate all the characters and their world. There needs to be something more - and in this novel, there isn't. The plot is never truely tense, it follows the dystopia template so closely that you sort of know how it's going to end before you've even met all the characters, and the lack of subtlety comes across as shallow and stupid. It's a bit as if someone had taken a Banksy graffiti and turned it into a novel. (Nothing against Banksy - some of his work is funny and satirical and enjoyable - but it's meant for one wall, not for 300 pages)
on 6 June 2008
For me, effective satire is akin to dissecting the absurdity of your subject with a scalpel. This book is more like being repeatedly smacked around the head with a shovel. The scenario is so heavy-handed and lacking in subtletly even before the obvious 1984 parallels signal the "twist". It reads almost like he has aimed it squarely at the people he is ridiculing; everything has to be spelled out to avoid you having to think or draw your own conclusions. It all feels a bit dumbed down and patronising. I've read and liked most of Ben Elton's books and can't remember one I enjoyed less. I can't see me bothering to re-read it, which is unusual, but because of the lack of subtlety I can't imagine finding something I missed on the first time around. 2 stars is probably a bit generous.
on 1 June 2008
I wasn't going to review but I feel several people on here are missing the point.
While the book isn't as laugh-out-loud hilarious as some of his other works are, the evident satire laced in every chapter of the novel is evident and brought many wry smiles to my face. Its themes are relevant to all of us and while it may not be "high brow literature," although its message is one of seeking intelligence in a society that persists to "dumb down" the world, this is entirely Elton's point, I feel.
The idea of the colloquial language and the easy-to-read, small chaptered format signifies that the book appeals to all audiences. It pleases those who will laugh at the satire, those who simply devour a well-structured funny yet dark storyline, and those who view the novel as an approach to all audiences to mix high brow and low brow culture so that such an apocalyptic situtation doesn't occur.
Maybe I'm looking too much into this but that's the feeling I get. Those who read "high brow" literature will pick up on its self-advertised parallels to 1984, its farcical Utopian world and the links with the mediaeval Spanish Inquisiton, while those who do not read as often will be able to access the themes with ease, therefore enabling the entire audience to pursue the idea that it is not just one culture this novel or any other entertainment is or should be aimed at, but a mixture of the two. Therein lies a truly powerful story and I feel Blind Faith accomplishes it.
It isn't trying to be 1984 - not in the slightest. Of course Elton will have heard and read many times no doubt one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, but while he may have drawn some inspiration from it, his purpose I believe was never to re-write it for the "Myspace generation" as one person has said. He took a gamble when he chose to write about a society with no privacy because of course there would be certain people who would say it's a cheap rip-off of 1984.
But it isn't at all. It's a completely different style of novel with a completely different message. While some of the themes may be similar and some of the elements also, I don't believe it was Elton's intention to warn us of what a capitalist and overly conservative society may achieve in the future, as I believe was Orwell's aim, but to ridicule aspects of our society and to provoke emotions from the audience and above all to provide an entertaining story with a heart-warming ending that perhaps suggests, in this increasinly shallow world, that these people who crave understanding and privacy still remain.
At face value, the novel is comic, light even in places but there always remains the constant darkness, the always frightening reminder that we must not fall into the hands of a society which is slowly starting to become obsessed with sharing everything and hiding nothing.
The end was dramatic and powerful as many of Elton's novels are. I found myself grinning along with Trafford as he made his final speech. I find that novels that cause me to emote are often some of the best.
I think I'm coming across as trying to advertise the world's best book, but it isn't by any means. Most of those are mentioned in this novel though ironically. However I feel it deserves more recognition for being a fantastic novel than it has already received.
I was disappointed with Elton's last novel, Chart Throb, which although funny lacked a certain amount of punch for me, but Blind Faith more than makes up for it. Elton's back at his satirical best.