Humour lock


By Steve Painter


By Ben Elton
Macdonald. $29.95 (hb)
Reviewed by Steve Painter

At its best, Gridlock is a very funny novel about the ultimate traffic jam, which ties up London for three days, creating the political preconditions for turning most of the British Isles into motorways. It's witty satire on the determination of the motor and oil companies and their bought politicians to make sure we stay bumper to bumper on the road to complete ruin of our cities and our lives.

Unfortunately, Ben Elton mixes in his best with an interminable parade of one-liners which amount to nothing more than a slightly updated version of the tee-hee, naughty-bits schoolboy humour done well past death by the Carry On gang in the '60s, and reflected in Australia by "wit" of the Graham Kennedy/Bert Newton/Steve Vizard genre.

Some of Elton's one-liners are very clever, and his satire, when he gets down to it, is satisfyingly savage, particularly against such deserving targets as the British yellow press, Conservative politicians, Labour Party and union rats. But why mix so much potential with so much rubbish, or at least why not turn down the mix a bit, like to about a quarter of the fart-masturbation-etc jokes? At least then they mightn't be so pervasive that it becomes tempting to give up on the book out of boredom/irritation.

Could it be that Elton is caught in the same consumerist trap he satirises? Is he a victim of a formula: so many sex jokes (which to be borderline non-sexist must be mainly about male genitalia, farting, masturbation) equals so many sales?