Out of your comfort zone

Ben Elton
Ben Elton

I was reading Ben Elton’s Meltdown the other night when I realised that some of the characters really pissed me off. Well, I didn’t realise it exactly. My wife, prompted by a few too many huffs and puffs, asked me gently if I was alright.

Jane Teresa will often ask me questions. She always has. In fact, from what I understand, she’s had an enquiring mind since she could first speak and, on a number of occasions, drove her mother crazy with queries. I guess that’s what catapulted her into the scientific world and then into her own research into dreams, but that’s another story.

A selfish and grasping character
A selfish and grasping character

I was so deeply engrossed in the book that I hadn’t realised that I was making an issue out of Ben’s characters until JT mentioned my obvious discomfort. I suppose discomfort is the word. Some of the people in the story were dickheads and, as the plot progressed, they developed into obnoxious dickheads. It was making me angry.

Of course that was Ben Elton’s idea. For example, the selfish, grasping, bad behaviour portrayed by one of the protagonists was meant to prickle and upset the reader. Unless they too were selfish and grasping in which case the whole point would be lost. But, again, they wouldn’t be reading the book anyway, would they? Too busy out there grabbing.

When I sat back and thought about it, I wondered if I really wanted to read the book at all. I had to make a decision. I was at the point in the narrative where I would shortly be sucked in and would have to finish the book. It’s happened to me too many times before not to be aware of it. What a choice – continue, knowing that I was going to grind my teeth until I was ready to climb inside the pages and give what’s his name a quick slap, or toss the book to one side and pick up another one without all the angst in it from my burgeoning to-read pile?

There's plenty of happiness around
There’s plenty of happiness around

Do we really need to have books upset us? Is avoiding writing that challenges us ducking the realities of life? In my case I know the answer. From time to time my long life has been well drenched in other people’s dramas and sorrows. Conflict and death aren’t strangers to my memories. I’ve pretty much seen it all – very, very good and very bad. I wouldn’t swap my life’s experiences for anything. Well, not a lot anyway and only some things. Why would I choose to immerse myself in a story of bickering and misfortune when there’s so much happiness in the world to enjoy? It just reminds me of the blacker side of real life.

What do you think?

And Ben Elton’s tale? I did finish it. And I did enjoy it.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Michael

    It’s interesting to hear what you read. I would have enjoyed a brief summary explaining what Meltdown is about, considering I live under a Rock. Perhaps the odd book review would be interesting to us subscribers, since knowing what books a Ghost Writer reads immediately peaks my interest – especially if the review is good.

    BTW – my mind went blank when I considered your question about books where the characters really got me heated. I guess waking life provides me with enough experiences to feel what you are saying though! And I felt that magnificently! I enjoy the type of writing where the author brings out the humorous side of a very annoying character. I think Jane Austen was a master at that.

    1. Hi Belinda,

      Good points. I should expand a little on my book descriptions, and they may even make mini blogs in themselves.

      I’d love to do something on the book I’ve just finished – Truth by Peter Temple. It made history when it became the first crime novel to win Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award. The interesting thing is that even as an ex-cop I found it extremely challenging to follow. Bloody good read, though. And very, very close to the bone.

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