Review: ‘Blind Faith’ by Ben Elton

Exactly one year ago, I wrote about how Ben Elton seems to do more interesting work in his books than his stage and screen work (‘Get A Grip’, his most recent TV work, was pretty weak, though I think that was partly due to the format and his co-host; Alexa Chung may be popular with the papers and fashion magazines, but her presenting skills are, I feel, doubtful – compare her to, say, Mikita Oliver, and it’s all too obvious who’s most comfortable and natural on-camera. But I digress).

And lo and behold, here I am 365 days on, reviewing his most recent novel, ‘Blind Faith’. As you could guess from the cover and the title, it’s very much a novel about belief.

Set in a future London after a disastrous flood (which, now I think of it, links with several religious stories), the book features a man called Trafford who starts to have doubts about the society he lives in – everyone shares everything (literally – sex and childbirth are public events) on constantly-streamed websites, people walk the streets barely-clothed, and there are vast religious events which have more in common with a political rally than, say, a charismatic gathering.

Science and reason are actively frowned upon and punished, meaning that vaccination is outlawed, and Trafford begins to wonder if all this is right, especially after his wife gives birth to their daughter. His wondering turns into active doubt, and he begins to seek people who, like him, think that things could be different.

As you’ve probably guessed, there are definite parallels with Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, but to be honest this is almost impossible to avoid in a dystopian novel, as Orwell’s book casts a long shadow. Elton’s take on these things, though, is more acute in its attacks on what he sees as being wrong in the present day (the current obsessions with ‘sharing’, public emoting, celebrity and the like), and as a result is, to my mind, more satirical.

And it’s not toothless satire or restrained prose, either – here’s an example from one of the book’s key scenes:
“… no society based on nothing more constructive than fear and brutish ignorance could survive for ever. No people who raised up the least inventive, the least challenging, the least interesting of their number while crushing individual curiosity and endeavour could prosper for long.”
… those are meant to be Trafford’s thoughts, but I think it’s not too much of a reach to imagine that it’s what Ben Elton thinks too.

This isn’t a gut-bustingly laugh-out-loud gagfest, but is certainly one of Elton’s stronger books, and the points it makes are, to my mind, solid ones, and it’s well-written. It just came out in paperback last week, and I heartily recommend it to you as a good read, and one which might well set you thinking about some of the issues it raises.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi John

    I blogged on this very subject back in March (http://stevyncolgan.blogspot.com/2008/03/private-keep-out.html) and quoted Ben Elton on the subject of privacy. He’d been appearing on John Lloyd’s ‘Museum of Curiosity’ and chose the concept of privacy as his ‘interesting thing’. It’s all very scary.

    S

  2. Just read that post, and agree entirely with you – and Mr Elton – on this. In the book, he has the late Princess of Wales as a saint-like figure in the central religion, and it’s hard not to think that the ‘look at my grief’ sharing at that time wasn’t a big part in making people think that all everything that used to be personal should be shared, or that it in some way has some wider meaning and needs to be broadcast, simply because it’s happened.
    Especially as the circumstances surrounding the death in question appear to suggest it wasn’t part of some bigger series of events, but simply something unfortunate that happened (driver + alcohol + high speed + tunnel = sudden and abrupt end to journey), I’m afraid.
    J

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