Blind Faith - Ben Elton (2007)

Ben Elton's Blind Faith might very well be a minor masterpiece. In many ways it's an update of 1984, with dashes of the Spanish Inquisition thrown in for piquancy. It dwells on themes which seem to obsess Elton - fame, notoriety, the nature of celebrity, human stupidity, the mixed blessing of the Internet and of technology in general, and so on. He's explored these before in, for instance, Chart Throb and Dead Famous. Blind Faith is darker than those books but still manages to be funny, no mean trick.

Here's a quote that stuck with me, and one that summarizes neatly the setting of the near-future dystopia and how we got there:

"Almost anything that we might wish to read could be located on the net instantly and traced straight back to us. The internet was supposed to liberate knowledge but in fact it buried it, first under a vast sewer of ignorance, laziness, bigotry, superstition and filth and then beneath the cloak of police surveillance. Now, as you know, cyberspace exists exclusively to promote commerce, gossip and pornography."

In the Britain of the novel, privacy itself is seditious. One is expected to post to the Internet constantly the most intimate details of one's life, preferably with video. Failure to do so risks accusations of "thinking you're better than me," and inciting mob violence. Any complaint about another's behaviour, no matter how small the complaint or how outrageous the behaviour, is considered an attempt to infringe on someone's right of self-expression. It's political correctness carried to farcical extremes. And we can see the hints of it already. In American today, "elite" seems to be a bad word unless applied to military units. The slope is getting slippery.

The plot is not revolutionary (pun intended). Our unhappy hero begins a slow resistance to the oppression that he suffers under. He starts to rebel, and the weight of the state moves against him. He becomes something of an everyman hero. And, well, anything more would be a spoiler.

Be warned, this is not a happy book. Parts of it are very funny, but it is dark. It is an indictment of society today and a warning about where we might go. Is it a classic? Time will tell. Is it playing in the same league as 1984 and Brave New World? Difficult to say. But make no mistake, it is playing the same game.

Overall Grade: A

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