It's an old favourite folks, it's book review time!
This time it's Past Mortem by Ben Elton.
Now you may remember my comments a couple of days ago to the effect that Ben Elton isn't really funny any more. Now perhaps I was being overly critical because while I still think that he is well past his sell by date as a stand up comic he is still capable of producing a rattling good read. While his early works such as Stark were all about his brand of slightly OTT comedy his more recent stuff has been a bit more subtle. That's not to say it is subtle per se, Elton hasn't changed his spots that much, but they do take a different tac, generally looking some form of pop culture, poking gentle fun at it and making a serious point all at the same time. It's still not exactly Charles Dickens but he does have more substance to him than some may credit him for.
So anyway, Past Mortem. It takes a look at all those websites like Friends Reunited and asks some unsettling questions. It is also a rattling good who dunnit, as we follow Det Insp Newson in his search for a serial killer who appears to be tracking down former school bullies through Friends Reunited and bumping them off in pretty gruesome ways. It also follows Newson's hopeless attempts to seduce his (police) partner Natasha, a sub plot that while being slightly cheesy, is gently amusing.
Like I said, this book is slightly unsettling. A whole series of unhappy characters are seen using Friends Reunited to contact old flames and rekindle things and also to dig up old arguments and enemies. And it's all so tragic. Now I have to confess something, I am a member of friends reunited and I have got back in touch with one old friend through it who I had genuinely lost touch with through circumstances. However i have mainly used it to just be bloody nosey, I'll admit it I'm an old fish wife! I do wonder though if I am the exception. I know of others who have tried to rekindle that old flame and I think that if anyone who has done that reads Past Mortem they are going to be made to feel very uncomfortable indeed because this book asks some very awkward questions about their motives and what is going on in their heads.
What was more personal to me though is the part about school bullying. This book makes no great break through into examining the causes of bullying, it is well known that much of it is about power and the bully themselves being inadequate. Instead this looks at the fall out from bullying and what happens to its victims later on. And from experience Elton is spot on. And I know because I was bullied at school. There were moments when his incite was so spot on that I do wonder if he was bullied himself.
First of all the fact that it is so hard for the victim, at least at the time, to admit what is happening. Trust me, I know. I wont go into what happened to me, I left it behind me (something we'll return to, ironically) shortly. All you need to know though is how hard it is to admit to it, it is utterly humiliating.
Second is the power the bully has. There is a moment in the book in a school reunion where one man encounters his former bully, many years later and becomes a gibbering wreck. That was me. About 3 years ago I was having a drink with friends in a pub when in walked one of my bullies. He actually sat at the table next to me. We didn't speak, and we didn't even acknowledge each others presence, but I was reduced a from a self confident talkative 20 something back to a cowering, gibbering 13 year old I had once been. It was a horrible moment and one that I hope I never have to endure again.
Finally how people react later on. I'm not the only victim of bullying, there are many out there, I'm friends with some of them. And all of us have a choice. You can move on or you can't. And many of Elton's characters have not. And this is what is so unsettling. I know people that have not moved on and I know what they are like, but we wont go into that. I, thankfully, took the other option. I chose to move on. It's not forgotten, the incident in the pub proves that, and indeed I don't want to forget. To do so would frankly be an insult both to myself and to other victims. And I know how easy it would be to remain angry and bitter about things, I could let myself do it quite easily and slip into being someone quite different, but I choose not to. And the final climax to the book demonstrates this choice as Natasha finally moves on from her bully.
Overall this book is not that subtle, but it is insightful. If you know nothing of bullying or what happens to its victims then go read it.