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Blast from the Past - Ben Elton

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    11 Reviews
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      25.11.2003 16:57
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      Beware of The Bug!! Polly is an innocent, working woman. All she wants is a peaceful night's sleep. But does she get that? Of course not! She is blasted from the past! Through the typical Elton stylee of flashbacks, we slowly learn who poor Polly is being blasted by. Her childhood lover, who left her depressed and heartbroken for the rest of her life at only 17. He is a high up army official and she is a 17 year old girl campaigning for freedom and women's rights, her most hated enemy being, of course the army. Strange combination...certainly not a career booster for old Jack...hence why he left. When fast asleep in her little flat, the reader is thrust into her interesting life, the downstairs milkman and all. Jack returns after 16 years with a nasty surprise which comes as a big shock, well it certainly did to me! But Polly gives it her best, who knows what you can do with chemical fertilizer and a bag....! The Bug continues to bug throughout the book, eventually attempting to kill his rival (opps wrong person!). But although there are some deaths (I won't spoil it!) there is also a happy ending, which I was pleased about! I was starting to feel depressed when reaching the end at some awful hour of the morning (it's not an easy one to put down!). Although entertaining this is certainly not one of the wittest, funniest or best written books by Elton, but good for a long train journey or just to kill a couple of hours. Don't let its largley political outlook put you off, I'm certainly not a buff in that department, but found it all quite enlightening, the contrasting opinions of the two main head-strong characters allows an enthralling plot to build up.....give it a go!

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        30.11.2002 18:41
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        I was up ‘til 1:30am last night, finishing off the last hundred or so pages of this book – Blast from the Past by Ben Elton. I have previously read some other of his novels - Stark (years ago) and more recently, Inconceivable (okay) and Dead Famous (very good). I wouldn’t say he is in my list of favourite authors, but he’s worth a read. This book is set over one night, but told over a lot of flashbacks and discussions about previous events. The ‘action’ is quite near the end, most of the novel is taken up with introducing you to the main characters and showing you their views of what has happened in their lives. Our heroine is Polly, but in some ways, she’s a bit of a failure. Once a member of the Greenham Common peace camp, she is still fiercely political but now has a respectable job. She lives in a small flat, seems to have few friends and a non-existent love life. Hardly something to envy or aspire to then. But she is a likeable character. She has definitely loved and lost and to use a cliché, we ‘feel her pain’. I could personally sympathise with her untidiness too and her youthful political consciousness. I well remember having some of the debates she has in this book and how I, too, naively believed my protests could go some way to making the world a better place. The other two main characters aren’t quite as sympathetic, but are as flawed (and therefore believable) as Polly. We have two men – Peter ‘the Bug’ and General Jack Kent – who are worlds apart in every way. Peter is a stalker. He rings Polly in the middle of the night. He threatens her, follows her, and takes photos of her. He has already been warned by the police to stay away, but he just can’t help himself – much to the chagrin of his poor mother, who tries to stand by him, but finds it hard to understand his obsession. Jack is high up in the America
        n military and he’s getting higher and higher. In fact, he has so much ambition to progress and succeed, that it can sometimes be over-powering. He had an affair with Polly some sixteen years earlier – a relationship which deeply affected both of them. On this one night of the story, the three of them are at the same place, at the same time. For the first time, their lives overlap and for all three of them, this one night will change things forever. Polly is woken up by a phonecall. Peter is in the street near her house, armed with a knife. Jack is back in Britain for a day and is planning a surprise visit. Of course, I’m not going to tell you what happens. I recommend you read it for yourself. It’s only 362 pages and although it took me a few weeks to finish, my husband read it all in one go, so it shouldn’t take too long to get through. As well as the clever plot with its many twists and turns, the beauty of this lies in the way the characters are brought to life. It’s not only the three leads either, but minor figures such as the milkman are also beautifully sketched. Another great thing about this novel are the clever conversations that Polly and Jack have. They are often moving, sometimes dramatic and at several times, I laughed out loud. The book is never dull or boring, because of the captivating style of the long conversations. The book was published in 1998 and contains many cultural references, particularly from the 1980s. The mention of the World Trade Centre, however, is especially poignant. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys this kind of novel. It’s hard to fit it into a niche or a genre, as it has a bit of everything in it – romance, thriller, comedy, drama, mystery. But you will find it particularly good if you were a raving lefty in your university years and loved a good anti-something demo! *** BLAST FROM THE PAST b
        y Ben Elton ~ Published by Black swan in 1998 ~ Paperback £6.99 ~ ISBN 0-552-99833-8 ***

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          07.11.2001 01:35
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          Jack and Polly are lovers, or at least were back in the good old days. Their love was an incredible, all consuming flame which neither could deny even though they were from opposite ends of the spectrum and the world! The Plot: --------- The brief bit is above, now for the main! The story begins in the world of sleep. Polly is fast asleep in her North London flat with nothing on her mind and a deep sleep passing her through to the morning. The phone rings and it is her ex-lover and heart breaker, Jack Kent, a US soldier in town for a while. She could not be more shocked. Polly works for Camden council and one of her cases was Peter, a sad case of reverse sexism in the workplace. He's fallen for Polly big time and has taken to stalking her and phoning her constantly! He shows up after Jack has said he's on his way around and scares the hell out of Polly. He goes away when she threatens to call the police on him. Jack gets there, he's a full General now and the two begin to go over their lives apart and in the Summer that they were together. Each has been missing the other and they re live their memories together. The story, in flashback, shows their Summer of love and lust very well, each has their highs and lows and each is scarred by the past, she was a peace protester and he was a Captain sent to guard missiles. They fell in love through a chance meeting at a roadside cafe back then. The plot has a lot of detail, lots of involved stuff about their hotel rooms, their vulnerability and their lives as could have been. Peter is a major player in the drama of this single night they have together, 16 years after their initial fling. There is betrayal on 2 fronts, shocks and scares and a great deal of excitement in the book. Overall the ending is a bit of a disappointment (at least I thought so) and could have been done better - I won't give it away though, just let you know
          my feelings. Overall: -------- The book has a great feeling about it, political and enigmatic. It has a great mix of characters and their histories are delved into pretty deeply. The funny bits, as with all of Elton's books, abound and it will keep you on the edge of your seat for the whole book. This is a great book, the twists of plot are many and the intensity of the writing style is great. Bang after bang here, a definite one for the collection.

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            04.09.2001 20:24
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            Who remembers Saturday Night Live, the “anarchic” stand-up show from the early 80’s? If you do can you remember who was the most left wing comedian? Correct - it could only be the loveable motor mouth host Ben Elton, whose routines were dominated by bodily functions and Mrs Thatcher, and preferably both in the same sentence. Roll forward 20 odd years and Ben has now become a figure of the establishment and a respected author. Strangely two of his books Popcorn and Blast from the Past seem to be very open minded ridiculing strong left and right wing views in equal measure – how a huge fat cheque can change your views. On to the book, what’s it all about? Well the basic premise is that it’s a love story between Jack Kent and Polly Slade. The story starts 20 years ago at Greenham Common where Jack was guarding the cruise missiles that Polly was spending her gap year protesting against. Definitely an odd couple, neither who would be forgiven be their own side, they are forced to meet in secret. This continues for a few months until Jack gets a promotion and is posted to Germany leaving Polly without even saying goodbye. Over the next 20 years Jack is promoted until he is tipped to become Commander in Chief of the US forces, whilst a devastated Polly rebounds from one bad situation to another until she ends up working for the equal opportunities department and living in a crap bedsit. With this final promotion Jack becomes worried about his past and seeks Polly out to make sure that she will not ruin his career by telling the press about his past. The majority of the book is these two protagonists trying to find out what the other one wants and trying to link it to the emotions they felt in their affair 20 years ago. The only other notable character is Peter who is stalking Polly and whose menacing interruptions add to the tension between Polly and Jack. Ben Elton extracts huge drama from this sim
            ple premise with Jack and Polly each having their turn to appear to be on top of the argument each using political, emotional and sexual arguments to alternatively push away and then attract the other back. This all leads to a final dramatic scene which if I told you about I would have to kill you, but what I will say is that there is a happy ending, it is a love story after all, just not one that I’d even thought of. Also as you would expect from Ben Elton the book is funny, maybe not laugh out loud funny, but definitely a constant silly grin funny. The humour comes from examining both the right wing necessity to have to shoot and kill anything that moves including the phallic possibilities of a cruise missile, and also the left wing effect of peace camps and positive discrimination whilst also probing another favourite subject – bedsit life. Overall this is a good read, funny and touching in equal measures and Ben Elton shows us that as a writer he is constantly improving and far removed from the knob gags where he started from.

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              03.07.2001 01:35
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              When Polly’s phone rings at 2.15am she knows something is wrong. When the phone rings at that time of night, it’s not usually good news, and for Polly, she has become used to calls at these times of night, from her stalker, Peter, who continues to pursue her despite a restraining order placed on him by the courts. Like she does every other time, she waits for the answering machine to take the call, waiting to hear him abusing her privacy. However, this time it isn’t Peter on the other end, but some one that invokes equal amounts of emotion, but of a different kind. The voice on the other end is that of Jack, an American soldier she had a brief affair with when she was 17, which was 16 years ago, and who she hasn’t seen from since. However, that hasn’t stopped Polly thinking about him everyday since he left, for the romance was probably the best thing to ever happen in her life so far, and his leaving was a blow to which she never really recovered. What made their relationship so special was the extremes – the absolute difference of the two – Jack, a soldier, traditional, who only sees things in black and white, feeling alienated and left behind in the modernising society that sought to make women and men equal, trying to cope with the changing face of the army in a more peaceful time than in previous years. Polly, a young, angry, liberal pacifist, totally opposed to male domination and violence of all kinds, yet here where the two sneaking around, booking into hotels for brief snatched moments of each other. Surely it couldn’t last, or bloom into anything more important? But the affair has had an effect on Jack too – he’s now a much more senior ranking officer, but the memories of what they did together still linger with him and he thinks of them every day. So, when he arrives back in Britain for the first time since leaving Polly, he gets back in touch with her
              , announces that he’s over as he needs to speak to her, will he and Polly resume where they left off, or will things be totally different? I suppose the bottom line is whether the book is any good… er … not really yes and not really no. It’s alright I guess, but certainly the weakest Ben Elton book I’ve read so far. That’s probably why they’ve chosen to quote reviews of Popcorn rather than this book on the sleeve. I’m not saying that it’s an awful book, it’s OK to read, but it’s just not really engrossing or exciting. The problem is a real lack of pace in the book. Although the events of the book take place over a period of a few hours, the book has to keep going back to events in the past in order to fill you in with details, to show the events that lead them to that night’s meeting, the really huge events in their life that have made them the people they are right now. I’ll be honest and say that it doesn’t really work. It moves back and forth too quickly, so that you don’t really get enough enlightenment about the past to know what’s going on. It’s like the characters both know what is going on, but you’re left in the dark. It might be a ploy to keep you interested and reading the book, but it only serves to confuse you as you really have no idea about why the past is so important to them, which gives you no real idea of the significance of it all, and why they are both so messed up. The plot doesn’t really take off until about halfway through the book when you really start to see where the book is heading, and in my opinion this is just a little too long to maintain interest, the slow drip feed of facts becomes quite frustrating at times. I stuck with it as it was easy reading, but I’m sure a few people mightn’t give it that much time. As I just mentioned, the book is quite simple to read, it’s fewer than
              300 pages and divided into 58 quite short chapters, the longest running to about ten pages. This makes it very easy to dip in and out of, but the end of each chapter provides no real incentive to continue. There are no real cliffhangers to speak of; each chapter is basically a chapter detailing an event in either the present story, or something that happened 16 years ago. There is no regular pattern, like a chapter about in the past then present, which can make following the story slightly confusing as you have a few chapters about the present, followed by a chapter about Polly’s past, then one about Jack. It isn’t always immediately obvious where about in time you are, and moving between chapters caused me to lose my bearings a couple of times. The books real plus point are that it has quite strong, realistic characters. You have Polly, a one time protester who took actions into her own hands, camping out to protest about feminism and nuclear war, who has now settled down into an ordinary job, and an ordinary life, but still mourns the loss of her love 16 years ago. Then you have Jack, the traditionalist military man; more concerned with his promotion prospects than falling in love. The way the book details the past events gives us a great indication of how it shaped them as the people they are now, but the way it does it really fails to convey effectively their significance in each other’s life. The way Jack is described is probably the best part of the book, as he is only able to properly convey his feelings through letters to his brother, as he finds it difficult to talk about how he’s feeling. The two characters have some kind of chemistry between them, but it doesn’t always manage to be convincing. The range of characters in the book is very small, apart from the two main characters there is only really Peter the stalker to talk about, as well as very few others. The stalker is probably the best handles character
              in the book, managing to get right into his brain and illustrate exactly why he feels the way he does, and how he justifies his actions. The book isn’t out and out funny. I laughed out loud once, there are a couple of funny lines, but on the whole, it’s a pretty straight book about the relationship between these two people, how they’ve changed but still have this unnatural hold over each other’s life. Unusually for Elton, the book is rather apolitical as well, it attempts to look at the changing roles of people in society, such as the rise of feminism and the difficulty faced by males in society, and the way that a lot of men resent this, but it is handles quite clumsily. Jack is the voice of the man who doesn’t understand the need for change, while Polly is the one trying to force the change. Unfortunately, Jack just comes across as dated and with his head in the past, while some of Polly’s liberalism is woolly and unconvincing. The arguments presented for both sides don’t really help you to come to any real conclusion of your own. I wouldn’t really recommend this book unless you where really desperate for a read. At times it gets tedious, as you don’t really know what is going on, and you’re reading on hoping more facts will be revealed soon. To be fair, as more details become clear, the book does start to pick up a little and become edgier and more interesting, but it’s a case of too little too late, as by then the book is almost at it’s climax. You won’t hate it, but there are better books out there to read.

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                17.03.2001 02:34

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                Oh dear, what has happened to “yes indeed.little bit of politics, Mrs. Thatch, Mrs. Thatch Ben Elton.I saw that cringing closing speech on Room 101 and thought he’s mainstream establishment. Sadly this book is no better and ads up to a very tame non challenging run of the mill love story by an author who’s more worried about his next PEP fund than over throwing the capitalist he now seems to have become by writing this commercial fodder. Theres a snip of political comment in here but no more than ITV news and if you buy his books for that then leave well a known. Its more of a chick read love story rather than any insight into the cold war in the 80s which the story is pasted around. General Jack Kent is back in England with the USAF as a high ranking army diplomat on company business. But that’s not the main thing on his mind right now as 16 years ago he was a low ranking officer on this very base and totally in love with a beautiful girl ten years his junior. Polly Harris has always been an environmentalist at heart and in the early 80s spent her summer holidays between her A-Levels on a peace camp protest against American neuclar missiles on British soil. This is were Jack and Pollies very different lives and ideals collided on that distant and romantic warm English summer were a short and intense relationship. The two meet in a roadside café and ague their politics which suprisingly buds an unlikely relationship as the two make intense love in a near bye hotel. Because of the age difference and Jacks military career their love must be discreet and hidden in many motel and seedy locations. But 18 years to the day as Jack Kent touched down in a rainy grey England he’s going to call her and shake up a long lost romance she’s long since put out of her mind, but never forgotten. But Pollys phone is ringing with another very unwelcome man buy the name of Peter, or the bug as she calls the ru
                nt that his ruining her life and job in a pokey London flat near Hackney council workplace. But Peter better disappear because Jacks in town and he’s about to call his long lost love. And for Poll this is a very unexpecting turn in her stressed out life. After her initial shock and protestations, the two talk about old times and weather to jump into bed together. But Peter is jealous and he’s got a knife and he’s in her block two floors below. Peter is a lowly stalker and he shouldn’t be f***g with a trained army killer. Now the twist is a little unexpected and I wont be telling you it, even though I don’t want you to buy this book, but a clue is that Jack pulled a lot of secret service strings to track down his long lost love, and theres other things on his agenda now he’s so high profile with an audience with the top people at his fingertips. There is no trace of Ben Elton in this book and to me it could have been done by anyone. Its not a funny read and really quite boring. Lovers of romance and girly intenseness might get something out of it, but not one for the male species or even earlier readers of the authors work.

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                22.08.2000 00:50
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                I didn't like this book. I found it really boring. I found it impossible to suspend my disbelief because I couldn't be bothered to, I didn't like any of the characters enough to care what happened to them and I felt as if I was waiting for something to happen. This feeling stayed with me until the very unbelievable end. Basically the whole book takes place in one night with many flashbacks to a past that I could not relate to the present we are reading. The characters didn't seem fleshed out enough and there were no laughs. Don't bother.

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                  19.08.2000 23:41
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                  I’ve been a Ben Elton fan ever since an ex-girlfriend of mine found ‘This Other Eden’ lying around on a train ages ago. Just to clarify - the book was lying around, she wasn’t. Although this particular book ‘Blast From The Past’ didn’t have me in hysterics as much as some of his other novels, its still got quite a few laughs up its sleeves. The plot itself is a little more sinister as compared to his previous books, but I feel that it’s a bit unfair for me to say too much about the story. I’ll only spoil it, so I’ll just note the main jist of the story instead. The theme focuses on the main character (as you would expect) called Polly. Polly is a pretty liberal minded government worker that lives alone in a flat. Years ago, she had a bit of a fling with a now very highly ranking American military officer that decided to leave her in pursuit of his career. After spending years apart, he decides to visit her in the middle of the night (as you would) only to find that she’s being pursued by a pretty determined stalker. I know that it doesn’t sound like very much at face value (I think the book is set entirely within Polly’s bedroom) but I’ll just spoil it if I rant on any more. However, there is much more to it than what I’ve just outlined. Elton, having done a superb job of combining gender politics, sexuality and humour, will make you fly through this book in no time at all. After all, his writing style does tend to be rather upbeat and, upon completion, you’ll find yourself wishing that the story would continue for a bit longer. Any curious folk will be pleased to note that it’s available at a web site/bookshop/library near you.

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                  15.08.2000 03:59

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                  Blast from the Past is not meant to be a really serious book. This book is meant to be humorous as well as carrying a serious message underneath. In my opinion the author gets the balance just about right. In fairness I did manage to work out a couple of the twists to the plot but none the less the book does manage to keep you guessing right up until the very end. Elton uses political humour and sarcasm to great effect. The characters are believable and all of them, even the disturbed stalker, are sympathetic. A gripping book that should be read.

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                  28.07.2000 02:17
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                  I have not read any of Ben Elton's previous books, so I did not what to expect. A bit of unfunny comedy, cardboard characters and some lame political comment presented in fifty-foot letters of fire. Elton suggests 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, unbeknown 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 bouyant. 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. 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 lo
                  ve 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.

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                  20.07.2000 18:44
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                  I have just been going through a Ben Elton phase and this has to be one of his best books. It is absolutely fantastic. It's the story of an English hippy flower power girl, her barmy stalker and an older, American soldier. It is well written, hysterically funny in places with a very surprising twist at the end. The characters are brilliant and you really empathise with the lonely English woman. The story is set in the present and interwoven with the couple's past history from 16 years before. This is done very cleverly and much of the plot is conveyed through the couples thoughts and memories. Much of the book is based on arguments about gender politics and male and female roles and responsibilities. This does get a bit much in places, but is important to the book and does make you think. I absolutely loved this book and couldn't put it down - I was dying to know how it all ended. If you have never read any of Ben Elton's work then this would be a great place to start. Fantastic reading!

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