Ben Elton is a strange figure. He rose to fame with his anti‑Thatcher rants back in the 1980s and earned much-deserved praise for his writing for Blackadder.
From there he seemed to be everywhere – writing novels, musicals and plays. With each new venture his smugness seems to have grown in inverse proportion to the quality of his output.
So what to make of Meltdown?
The book is set against the background of the credit crunch, and focuses on six friends – the “Radish Club” – who have maintained a relationship since university, and are now all highly successful. They are a Tory banker, a futures trader, a couple who deal in expensive trinkets, an architect, and a Labour junior cabinet minister.
All are hit in different ways by the crisis: their friendships are put to the test and their lives torn asunder. Eventually some find redemption.
Along the way Elton tears into greedy bankers, expense cheating MPs, pointless and illegal wars, and indeed the whole New Labour project.
All good targets, and all well exposed. So why, ultimately, did I not like the book?
Bits of it just didn’t ring true. The characters seemed lower middle class, yet bewildered about child-rearing without nannies or cleaning without maids.
And, without giving anything away, the ending of the book is twee beyond belief. If this is a tale of redemption, it’s a pretty corny one.
But I think the biggest reason for its failure is that, despite all his success, Elton is simply not much of a writer.
I was once forced to review a Jeffrey Archer novel, an easy read but with crap politics and no satisfying outcome. The politics in this book are fine – but the writing is a lot nearer to Jeffrey Archer than John Steinbeck.
Meltdown – Ben Elton
Bantam Press, £18.99