Inconceivable - Ben Elton (1999)

Inconceivable is the punny title of Ben Elton's book about a couple and their difficulty having children. One might not think that infertility is a subject rife with comedic potential, but in the sharp and sometimes cruel hands of Ben Elton it makes for a very funny book indeed.

The book is written as an almost epistolatory novel, although instead of letters it is told in alternating extracts from the journals being written by Sam and Lucy, the childless couple. It is a device which works pretty well, giving a "he said/she said" feel to the proceedings. Sam's entries are funny and have a distinct male voice. Lucy's entries are funny and have a distinctive voice, too, but I wonder if the voice is a little stereotypical rather than distinctively female. (The voice sounded plausible to me, but I'm not a female and by definition poorly equipped to judge ...)

The through line, of course, is the various ups and downs of trying to get pregnant. There is lots of material here from New Age suggestions to make love on sites of mystic power to the indignities necessary for the various modern medical techniques. Interweaving with that story are subplots concerning Sam's attempt to kickstart his writing career by writing about their problems, and Lucy's response to that.

Elton's style is sharp and biting, almost mean at times, with an earthy streak that crops up now and then. Those familiar with British television might recognize the names Blackadder, The Young Ones and The Thin Blue Line, shows for which he was a writer. That's not to say there aren't moments of tenderness in the book, far from it! He brings a sense of reality to the relationship between Sam and Lucy, which is tender but tense, a complex and conflicted affair.

The book was adapted into a screenplay and made into the movie Maybe Baby, which is a little ironic since that's what happened in the book itself. There's a sort of snake eating it's own tail sense to that. The movie was directed by Elton and stars the usual passle of folks, including Hugh Laurie of House fame. All of which is rather beside the point.

The point being that the book is quite good, not a deep and world shaking read, but funny and a little poignant at places and worth the time if you need a break from Proust or whatever magnum opus you are currently perusing.

Overall Grade: B+

No comments: