High Society [2002]

I picked this book up expecting an essentially comic offering – something like a cynical Zadie Smith. At first, it seemed to be going that way. In an ironic tone, it began setting up what looked like a biting dark comedy about the drug trade.

However, after not very long, I began to find it difficult to continue reading along with the ironic representation. It’s hard to be ironic about slavery, child abuse, and ultimately about drugs. As the various plot elements began to build up, intersect and gain momentum, it was clear that the satiric tone was a veneer above a completely brutal story in which awful things happen to good people.

Eventually, the climax is reached, and the plots are all satisfactorily resolved – justice on all the small counts has prevailed, while the world-scale evil of the drug trade that has fuelled the horror of the circumstances and events emerges unscathed.

High Society thus operates efficiently on several levels: the level of the small-scope comedy, the large-scale satire, as a harrowing account of the drug underworld, and meta-textually as an excoriation of reader-response to all of the above. It is very clever, and the writing is very readable, very engaging. I want to like it, but at the same time, its straight story content is difficult going, unpleasant to contemplate and the eventual return to the status quo at the end of the novel undermines any sense of a resulting positive gain as a result of the trials.

A well-wrought bit of writing that I don’t think I’d recommend to anyone else, or read again myself.

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4 Responses to High Society [2002]

  1. xullrae says:

    Ben Elton is very much a product of the highly-political 80s. I don’t think he’s really capable of writing anything that doesn’t have a “worthy” message, and of course you can’t criticise him for that because it’s such a, um, worthy thing to do.

    • mashugenah says:

      Fair enough. I’ll take your word for it because after this book, I think I’ll be fairly wary before picking up another.

      • xullrae says:

        I had a similar reaction when I read his first book years ago. Can’t remember what it was called, but it was to do with global warming.

        Most people think of him as a comic writer, but I remember him mainly from the 80s when he use to rant against Thatcher.

  2. Pingback: Taken [2008] | My One Contribution To The Internet

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