Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dead Famous by Ben Elton

The title Dead Famous encapsulates very well Elton’s message in this book: people will go to extreme lengths to become famous in contemporary society. The setting, a reality television show called House Arrest is based on the once very popular Big Brother. (It was published in 2001, around about when Big Brother was popular, I guess.)

The characters, or inmates, as they are called throughout the book, are ten young English people who compete for 1 million pounds in prize money, but also, it seems, to be the most banal. ‘Wicked! Amped-up! I really love yez’ are the catch-cries of the inmates who want desperately to be loved by each other, but more importantly by those on the outside – those who seal their fate by voting someone off in the typical style of reality television shows. While they strut their stuff and attempt to show only their good sides on camera (which is all the time) the real people pulling the strings are those behind the scenes—the show’s producers and editors. This is a darkly cynical take on reality television shows which depicts contestants as mere fodder for television producers’ greedy and mercantile ambitions.

This book is fundamentally a critical social commentary on the cult of celebrity. Specifically it is a critique of the type of fame that has emerged with the advent of reality television. Constable Coleridge, the chief investigator in murder case of one of the inmates, represents the voice of reason as he repeatedly, though sometimes self-consciously, corrects his junior colleagues’ use of the English language and other incomprehensible traits he regards as defining the upcoming generation. Traits he believes are ruining the English way of life as he knows it.

A thoroughly modern whodunit, Dead Famous will keep you on the edge of your seat—it’s a real page-turner. I read it over the course of 24-hours…literally could not put it down. (And at the risk of tooting my own whodunit trumpet, I guessed the murderer correctly halfway through the book ; )


  1. This is the only other book you've reviewed that I've read, hence my comment!

    I thought it was interesting how much the producers in this story manipulated the outcome. Then again, I've never thought too much about reality TV...

    "Dead Famous" is one of Elton's better ones - I find that these days, he's chucking the books out quickly in order to be "relevent" and I think his work is suffering for it. His book satirising Facebook/MySpace is particularly bad - it's a terrible rip off of 1984, to the point where he tries to cleverly reference it but it just points out how bad his plagarism is.

  2. Hi Kirsti. I haven't read any of his recent ones. I did hear a lot of bad things about his most recent one, Meltdown.

    I've read 2 others of his: Silly Cow (1993), which is a play, and Gridlock (1991). They were both really good.