Satire is a difficult thing to get right. As simple as it looks on panel shows like Mock The Week or Have I Got News For You, behind the laughter lies teams of people trawling the news and random goings on of the world to fuel the comedy fire.
Meltdown, by Ben Elton, who’s comedy pedigree involves writing Blackadder series 2-4 with Richard Curtis and The Thin Blue Line, is one example of how when a number of satirical topics gel together well, you know you’ve got something special.
As the cover (above) implies, the book’s plot focuses around the recession and the fallout created after the collapse of Northern Rock, re-named in true Elton fashion as ‘Caledonian Granite’.
“The recession? That’s old news?!” I hear you cry (from very far off…quietly), well, keeping things right up to date – an impressive feat considering Elton spends much of his time in far-off Australia – the book touches on the likes of MP’s expenses and cash for honours.
Elton, who has written 13 novels to date, has been criticised for his writing because his books often end unhappily, but really the important thing to note is that they always end as they would in the context of modern Britain. This is where Elton’s satire gains its power; these are believable stories which could happen, and despite exaggerating at points, mostly they just follow a worrying aspect of UK culture through to a conclusion and see what happens.
The protagonist (you know, the main guy) this time around is Jimmy, a banker was ousted from his job when phrases like ‘sub-prime’ and ‘negative equity’ began to creep in to the media. Despite living up to the reputation of his stereotype to a degree – he is (or was) a high-flying, arrogant executive who doesn’t know the value of money or the meaning of hard work – but Meltdown takes us on a light-hearted tour of what his life has become and how in many ways the fact that his ideal world has crumbled around him is for the best.
Jimmy belongs to an exclusive group representing the various aspects of high society: from Lizzie, the hard-working business woman with a world-famous catering business, David, an architect designing a building to bridge countries together, and Henry, a junior MP making his way up the ranks of the Commons.
The book is delivers what we’ve come to expect from Elton, though pointedly without any overly-graphic moments seen in earlier works, and Jimmy is one of the easiest of his characters to connect with, which helps draw in the reader every step of the way, from highs to lows; flashbacks to the present day.
For those who break into a grin at the thought of an MP pondering whether using his wife’s hair-dryer occasionally qualifies it to be claimed on expenses is just the kind of person who will love Meltdown. For those who think Qi and Celebrity Big Brother are on the same cultural wavelength…I’m sure there’s something exciting waiting for you on PriceDrop TV…
Surpassed only by earlier works like Chart Throb and Dead Famous, this is fun for the whole family – especially if you’re a banker.