Gridlock, by Ben Elton

gridlock-by-ben-eltonGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Warner Books
Published: 1993
Reviewer Rating:
Book Review by Paul S. Jenkins

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Before you ask, let me say that Ben Elton’s Gridlock definitely comes under the heading of speculative fiction. Though in essence it is a politico-industrial satire set mostly in modern London, it uses a classic science-fictional device: the new invention that’s going to affect lots of people in different ways.

There’s this clever chap who’s invented a new kind of engine that doesn’t run on expensive oil-derived fuel, and he’s patented the design. But the obnoxious head of the British subsidiary of an American car manufacturer has got wind of it, and sees the invention as a threat.

Gridlock is an intensely politically-correct novel, as one might expect from Elton, whose bitingly satirical stand-up routine is often a channel for his left-wing views. The book reads as if the author is standing at the reader’s shoulder, passing comments on the actions of the characters. It helps if you imagine him speaking the words of the novel in front of an audience.

The characters themselves can be a mite stereotypical, but caricatures are this author’s stock-in-trade, and he does them very well.

Some of Elton’s observations on British life can be a little trite, but most are right on the button, and very funny. So one gets used to the authorial intrusion and the swift shifts in point-of-view, and just enjoys the fun of it all. Underneath the mayhem of the breathless action scenes, behind the knowing jokes, and entwined with the clever eco-thriller plot, Elton has a message for us. It’s not a subtle message, and it’s put over in no uncertain terms. After the chase, the laughs, and yes, after the tragedy, Elton is saying that unless ‘something is done,’ London will succumb to a city-wide traffic-jam that could close down the country as a whole.

Gridlock isn’t a challenging read. It’s written with a kind of disarming confidence that makes it a page-turner. Read it for fun, and by the end you might just think his message is right.

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