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Elton takes on Hollywood - and wins
on 27 August 2005
If your experience of Ben Elton the novelist is through "Past Mortem", "Dead Famous", "Inconceivable " and others, you may be forgiven for thinking that he is a very British novelist, concerned with british themes, concerns, and media phenomena. "Popcorn" blows that idea out of the water. Its set exclusively in the USA, mostly in Hollywood, and its sharp, streetwise, shocking and funny.
I tend to think of Ben Elton as an issue-concerned novelist , and the issue at the heart of "Popcorn" is gratuitous violence in films, and whether it breeds violent behaviour in the audience for such films. The main character, Bruce Delamitri, is the director of a film called "Ordinary Americans" who seems a certainty for the oscar for best director. The events unfold throughout the day of the actual Oscar presentation, and the hours following it.
I took longer to get into "Popcorn" than into his other whodunits - "Past Mortem" and "Dead Famous". This isn't because its not as good - in some ways its better - but because it's a very different novel to the other two. Predictably, Elton depicts a Hollywood full of neurotic, shallow, self obsessed people whom nobody would ever want to pass the time of day with if they were not famous. Yet the world and the characters which he depicts are compelling not in spite of their awfulness, but because of it. The pace of the narrative accelerates to a remarkable climax, remarkable in as much as you continue reading even though you don't really care what happens to any of the protagonists. Except possibly the murderers.
One thing you can't help doing is matching up the fictional celebrities to their real life counterparts. If I was, lets say, Quentin Tarantino, I'd be pretty angry with this book, and I'd love to know what his reaction was to it.