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  • Stark
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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 9 July 2017
An epic tale with many a twist and turn. Spoilt a bit by being overly long it tells a great story of hope and desperation and now has me wondering what ever happened to all of the environmental concerns that were so live 30 years ago. Surely it's time for a revival of eco-action
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on 9 April 2016
OK, not great.
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on 1 May 2000
I don't think I've ever read a novel that improved so much as I read. From a slow beginning focusing on the less-than-compelling character of CD (obviously Elton's alter ego), more and more wonderful characters were introduced and the plot became surpisingly involving, till I was sorry to see my train pull in because it meant I would have to close the book. Waits for the bus became unnoticeable because I was so absorbed in what would happen next. Towards the end I literally couldn't put it down. I truly didn't expect the Stark Conspiracy to take the turn it did and it frightened me reading about the ecological destruction that seems inevitable if the facts Elton cited are true. I find myself in the position of many of the characters, just feeling helpless and hoping that "they" will find a way to fix it. I knew Elton was funny from watching Young Ones and Blackadder but I didn't expect such strong sense of storytelling and a bleak outlook from him. He creates many fine characterizations; most memorable are the burnt out Vietnam vet Zimmerman, his hippie buddy Walter (you'll recognize shades of Neil from the Young Ones in this guy), the uber-sarcastic Mrs. Culboon, rich car-phone fanatic Aristos Tyron, the exceedingly evil Professor Durf, and especially Stark Conspirator Sly Moorcock, who becomes the novel's most tragic figure. "Stark" also has a couple of strong heroines in Rachel and Chrissie. Now if Elton had just done something about that CD...
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on 17 March 2001
This book is possible the finest of Ben Elton's creations. The plot hangs around a corporate conspiracy known as 'Stark', the characters do not fulfil the the cliqued romantic ideals which is all to common in modern novels. Any reader can closely identify with the characters, and therefore can be embraced by the humour in it. It confirms the fact that recognition comedy, in which the reader can feel an empathy with the characters is the best kind of comedy. Everybody knows a 'C.D' or a 'Sly Moorcock', and it is good to have a bloody good laugh at their expense. The centre of the novel is ecological concern, it is written with a clear deveotion to the cause and despite the book principally being a comedy the passion and charm it is written with makes it an extremely moving book. The above factors are added to by virtue of Adrian Edmonsons exceptionally expressive voice brings the text to life. After listening to Stark, you will never be complacent about the environment again.
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I could not make head or tail of the first two thirds of this book and the last thread was beyond belief. Not the best book by Ben Elton. I was disappointed.
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Ben Elton is probably best known as scriptwriter for the Blackadder series, and that will give you a fair idea of both his talent and his way of thinking. To get the most out of Stark it probably helps to have followed the stand-up comic series he used to do on the BBC. That was brilliant and no two ways about it, provided you didn't find some of the topics embarrassing, which, in the absence of any maiden aunts, I didn't. No topic was off-limits. There was a great deal about certain parts of the body, but we were long used to that from Billy Connolly. Where Ben Elton went further was in dealing with political and racial, and particularly with environmental, issues. He used to deliver his monologues at machine-gun speed, and I was impressed not only by the sheer physical stamina he must have needed but also by what was either a phenomenal memory or a genius for on-the-spot improvisation, or maybe both. He went in for gag-lines in a way Billy Connolly doesn't, but one talent they have in common is for seeing the ridiculous side of quite ordinary things. There was always a general theme each time, environmental as often as not, but a few dozen incidental targets also used to get shot at along the way.
Read Stark with that in mind. I like the potshot he takes at champagne - the name trademarked so as to keep the price artificially high. However I remembered with pleasure the way we the public called the champagne producers' bluff at the millennium by boycotting the stuff so that we could find some high-quality surplus being sold off at bargain prices quite some time later. This thought brought me some comfort in reading Stark - perhaps we are not totally in the hands of the tycoons. Other details were entirely incidental and unrelated to the general message of the book, but he is the first person I have ever known to call attention to a strange deaths-head kind of face that has long repelled me in some famous American women anxious to preserve their looks beyond a certain age.
The thread of the book is serious in more senses than one. It is about the threat to the environment, and just exactly how bad that is I don't think anyone is quite sure. Ben Elton goes completely over the top, and that was smart. I don't suppose that even he takes at face value his scenario of the asset-stripper co-opted into the exclusive club of monstrous tycoons - a tobacco-baron, an arms exporter, a fast-food king foisting his stringburgers and gristlefurters on a complaisant public and other usual suspects - whose purpose is literally to bring about environmental disaster in the full knowledge of what they are doing. By caricaturing the suspects in this way he avoids being overtly political, and by going to extremes in his disaster-scenario he keeps the story vivid and involving, but just a story (I hope) all the same. For good measure he throws in a couple of unrelated nuclear catastrophes and the wreck of a maritime cargo of toxic waste. Such is the power of the money involved that people manage to stay unaware of what is going on (governments hardly get a mention), and the only resistance comes from a picaresque assortment of well-meaning liberals, hippies, dropouts and aborigines. One of these is a devotee of Judge Dread comics, and I wonder whether Ben got some of his ideas from such sources himself.
The story moves fast and the characters are interesting, although the book would hardly challenge Evelyn Waugh or Julian Barnes for Fine Writing. I found it helped to keep in mind my image of Ben Elton on stage, and I could hear his voice quite clearly - he writes much of it the way he talks. I find it hard to blame the politicians or even the tycoons in real life beyond a certain extent. If we are being suckered that is mainly our own fault, it seems to me, and we are, it seems to me, and it is, it seems to me. The planet's resources are not a bottomless pit, it will not take more than a certain amount of abuse just as our own bodies will not, we have not yet seen certain disasters as they could be (e.g. a nuclear meltdown, of which Chernobyl was a mere mooncast shadow), and of course mother nature herself could take a hand with, say, meteor-strikes, earthquakes, super-volcanoes etc. Probably nobody quite knows the extent of the chances we're taking, but it seems to me that we need to wake up and to grow up in the way we're behaving. We were given our brains to use, and we should remember the parable of the talents.
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on 15 August 2005
I've read a few of Eltons books now and consider this one probably the best. The plot is about a global conspiracy by the rich as they destroy the earth due to their un-enivronmentally friendly policies and a group of people who attempt to stop them.
It's fairly fast paced stuff and funny enough in places. All of the characters are fun, though several of them are heavy handed stereotypes though this is not really supposed to be a serious book so it fits nicely enough.
The only real weakness is Eltons determination to get his point over about how much damage is being done to the environment. He continually makes asides which whilst being interesting enough and I'm sure accurate and relevant, they somehow break the flow of the book and I think the point could have been made a lot more effectively.
Still a good book with some nice twists and turns.
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on 21 February 2014
Stark was apparently Ben Elton's first novel, and although the writing is pretty good and shows promise, it's easy to tell--especially judging it against his later novels. Stark comes across as the work of somebody trying to find their own distinct voice, somebody still learning their craft. The main problem is that the story didn't go anywhere, and the scenes were very choppy, broken into little segments, sometimes pointless segments which were only there, it seemed, so that Ben Elton could write a semi-humorous observation about something random. It's almost as if he had so many ideas and jokes to cram in that every now and then he would drop in a joke or scene for the sake of it. He's since become a much more polished writer, and is now able to integrate jokes into scenes, so that they appear a little more legit.

Anyway, the book was boring, the characters not particularly engaging, and Ben Elton had a really annoying habit of putting two exclamation marks at the end of certain sentences. As if one exclamation mark wasn't enough, I had to be burdened with seeing two of them crop up all over the page. It was annoying.

Aside from that I'd recommend you read any other Ben Elton book apart from this one.
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on 4 June 2000
Considering I have the attention span of a goldfish, and a long magazine article is an effort for me, Stark kept me engrossed to the point where I had this book with me 24 hours a day in case I had five minutes to spare. Granted it has a slow start, but the story richly rewards those that stick with it, even though you don't actually find out the point of the story until near the end. The book offers a great mix of characters (right down to Walter Culboon) and a cleverly illustrated statement. If this book was issued to all school leavers as a compulsory read, I'm sure the world would be a much healthier place. I highly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon 16 August 2007
I read this book on the strong recommendation of a relative, and despite my deep reluctance due to Ben Elton being immensely dislikeable and my best efforts to not enjoy it to prove a point, I found myself warming to this very funny tale of corporate conspiracies, unrequited love, social satire and the end of the world. Taking all of those elements into account that's got to appeal to a very broad readership.

Elton skilfully weaves a web of a group of social inadequates who, for reasons I won't explain for fear of ruining the book, stumble upon a global conspiracy that has not only hid the extent to which the world's environment has been terminally damaged, but has provided a remarkable survival plan for the conspirators. Interspersed among the action are dire warnings about the way mankind has damaged the world and are done in familiar Elton monologue style. I have little time for Elton as a ranting performer on stage, but his rants are strangely endearing when in printed form.

The action rattles along nicely with proper characters with virtues and vices and CD's unrequited love for Rachel provides a welcome subplot and will strike a chord with most readers. That element is handled with surprising skill by Elton as the cringeworthy Pommie prat goes through agonies to win Rachel's affection and shifts from slapstick to pathos as the book develops.

Is it a technical summary of environmental catastophe? No. Will it provide a moment of epiphany to hitherto environmental spoilers? Probably not. Is it funny? Yes. I would say it's ideal material to read while on a long flight to Australia to help take your mind off the huge carbon footprint you are leaving... but then again...
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