If you’ve read any of Ben Elton’s previous books, you know more or less what to expect. A bit of unfunny comedy, cardboard characters and some lame political comment presented in fifty-foot letters of fire. Previously Elton shocked the world by suggesting that pollution was maybe not A Good Thing; this time round he’s trying to warn us that militarism and nuclear weapons are Not Very Nice, taking time out to remind us that Thatcher was Not Nice Either and that stalking is Not Really On.
Polly is at home and, at 12.15 in the morning, the sound of the phone wakes her. “Only someone bad would ring you at such an hour, or someone with bad news, which would probably be worse. You hear the answer-machine kick in and feel your heart beat. You listen. And then you hear the voice you least expect”. Luckily for Polly it’s only an ex-boyfriend who wants to kill her rather than somebody really scary like Ben Elton.
Polly used to be a peace protester (cue lots of Greenham Common flashbacks) and the voice on the phone is Jack Kent, her military ex-boyfriend. Off we go on the reminiscence trail as they argue about war, have some of the most cringeworthy sex ever described in popular fiction, and then break up. Now he wants to see her because, unbeknownst to Polly, he’s about to be made president of the USA and can’t have any skeletons in his closet. So he’s going to kill her.
It’s unfortunate that world events have depth-charged Elton’s theme, as the Monica Lewinsky scandal demonstrated that most Americans don’t care whether the President has sexual congress with goats (or, indeed, has sexual goats in Congress) as long as the economy is buoyant. Recent world events notwithstanding, if Elton had remembered to put some jokes into the text then Blast From The Past might still have been a funny satire on militarism, an updated Catch-22 set in the political world. Unfortunately he didn’t and it isn’t.
If you’re the sort of person who likes your jokes telegraphed days in advance or your political issues presented in the style of “Janet And John Learn To Read” then you’ll love this book. The story rarely rises above the level of bad farce and once again Elton proves that he can’t create believable female characters and that he sure as hell can’t write decent sex scenes. The overriding feel of the novel is of amateur dramatics – with the right director and cast it might well make an enjoyable if shallow evening at the theatre, but on the printed page it just drags on interminably. By the time the book reaches its obvious conclusion you’re praying for someone to nuke the whole bloody lot of them so you can go and read something worthwhile instead – even an airport blockbuster like Absolute Power would be preferable to this nonsense.
During Elton’s mid-eighties heyday one of the many Spitting Image books did a piss-take of Paul Weller’s lyrics – “people are good / war is bad / vote Labour / vote Labour / vote Labour”. It’s a pity Ben Elton didn’t see it or he could have saved himself a great deal of effort.