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The war on drugs is lost
High Society - Ben Elton
Member Name: gillyman
High Society - Ben Elton
Date: 30/07/03, updated on 30/07/03 (249 review reads)
Advantages: Relevant topic, entertainingly written
Ben Elton was recently described by Parky (who knows these things) as "a bit of a clever clogs". He has been succesful as a comedy writer, stand-up comedian, writer of musicals, actor and author. This appears to be an extraordinarily prodigious output to those amongst us who have a mere 24 hours in the day. Not only that, in each of these pursuits he has brought pleasure to many millions of people - certainly an enviable record!
Although my acquaintance with him goes back as far as the Young Ones, I was only introduced to Elton's books relatively recently. This is the third that I have read and the second on which I have written an op (the other being the spoof Big Brother murder mystery Dead Famous). As a result I still have another 5 of his novels to get my teeth into and after having devoured this offering I can't wait!
As was the case with Dead Famous (the Big Brother phenomenon) and Popcorn (Violence in the movie industry), High Society tackles a topical subject, in this case the war on drugs. Elton uses interwoven narratives in short, readable chunks, leaping from story to story and changing perspectives within each of them to produce a very accessible book with a moral message that is easy to relate to.
*+*A brief outline of the story - won't spoil things for you!*+*
Peter Paget MP has the chance to introduce a Private Members Bill in Parliament. He chooses a controversial subject - the legalisation (and thus control) of all drugs, fully expecting to be shot down in glorious flames. Before the immediate uproar has had a chance to die down however, events transpire to place the topic on the national agenda and cabinet ministers are rubbing their hands with glee in anticipation of the tax windfall. But will Paget's secret affair come out in the open and ruin everything?
Commander Barry Leman, investigating police corruption in the drug squad and working together with Paget comes a little too
close to the truth for someone's liking - will it cost him his family?
Tommy Hanson, winner of Pop Idol and second only to Robbie in the nation's affections is an addict. Booze and cocaine with occasional heroin and speed thrown in for good measure. His confession, in front of an AA meeting is detailed throughout the book as he falls from grace due to his addictions.
Sonia is offered a thousand pounds and a week's holiday to act as a 'drug mule' - will she be caught?
Jessie, 17 years old, runs away to escape an abusive father and finds herself trapped into prostitution by her pimp who keeps her on a tight leash through the needle. All she wants is her life back.
Elton interweaves these stories, and those of a number of other characters to create a compelling case for the legalisation of drugs. Not the decriminalisation, nor the legalisation of some drugs but the full legalisation of all drugs.
Society is full of criminals. Who amongst us has not at some time partaken of an illegal substance? I don't see very many people holding up their hands. We are all therefore criminals. If the drug culture is so pervasive and cannot be stopped (in the words of the late, great Bill Hicks "They're winning and they're the ones who are screwed up!") then surely the way forward is to accept it, control it and turn police resources to tackling the associated problems - deaths due to contaminated doses, illness due to infected needles, theft and violent crime and prostitution.
At the same time, Elton aims a broadside at the press. Throughout the narrative the media is painted in a very negative light; thirsting for a story above all else, lacking in moral backbone and hypocritically abusing drugs whilst moralising over other people's use of those very same substances.
The characters are familiar; the crooked politician, bent policeman, an overnight pop sensation who has let
fame go to his head and been in and out of rehab. The tone is lighthearted but Elton has a serious message to put over. This book is relevant to one of the biggest problems faced in todays society in the same way as his stand up routines once were. In certain places I could imagine him reading the text as a Man from Auntie monologue (without the nob gags!)
This book is well worth a second glance. A globally important topic addressed from an interesting viewpoint in a manner that is exceedingly entertaining and squarely in the context of a British society to which the reader can easily relate - top stuff Ben!