Past Mortem (Ben Elton)

A good "holiday read" beats a movie in so many ways.  A movie usually lasts a mere 2 hours, while a novel routinely quadruples the duration of pleasure.  A movie requires a fixed position in a fixed place, whereas a novel can be enjoyed in any and almost all locations with little or no technology support. Even the best movie CGI can't match vibrancy and emotional power of the imagination at work.  The novel is a exercise for developing the imagination.  The modern high impact movie generally succeeds in being literally stunning. It is often only after the movie, that we get to digest, speculate, review and use our imagination to pick holes in the universe that we passively experienced.  But most importantly, the movie usually only infers consciousness through the skills of the actors.  The dreaded voiceover is almost universally acknowledged as a last resort of a failing screenwriter.  On the other hand, the novel is usually built on the streams of consciousness of its participants.  Our perspective is bent and twisted by being inside their heads, often disagreeing with their narrative, and yet being powerless to influence their fate.  This, above all, is what makes the novel superior to film - emotionally, morally and intellectually.

Ben Elton is no Graeme Greene, but even his completely predictable movie style serial killer plot is so much more powerful than the movie of the book (that is yet to be made) could ever be.  We enjoy Newson's witty self-depreciating commentary, even more than his bizarre and unbelievable indiscretions.
Unfortunately, Elton bullies the novel completely out of shape to force his theme to the centre focus again and again. Elton shows no sympathy for his characters as they get slaughtered to keep the action moving.  The disgusting denouement is dramatic but also uncomfortably comic.
A great "holiday read", but one that leaves a sense of dissatisfaction not dissimilar to that felt after a B grade movie.

Stephen Digby

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