Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Chart Throb: Ben Elton, December 1—23, 2011
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Ben Elton’s Chart Throb is the successor to X Factor and the novel follows the lives of the judges and contestants in what can be generally described as a satire of the format.
The judges are pertinently Simon Cowell, Sharon Osborne and Louis Walsh-esque, right down to the Beryl’s The Osbornes style show. The characters in the book actually refer to Cowell and Osborne (and their superiority to them) and to X Factor, which Chart Throb has replaced.
It’s fair to say Chart Throb, as a novel, is not generous to the reality TV scene. It presents Calvin ‘Simon Cowell’ Simms as an uncaring puppet master and the show is shamelessly manipulative. Is this reality? I would like to give X Factor more credit than Elton does, but there are also clearly elements of truth.
The main characters are all likeable in their own bizarre way, lampooned to breaking point but entertaining for the reader. The contestants, too, have distinct personalities and back stories. One of the most prominent and interesting storylines is Calvin’s attempts to have Prince Charles win the competition which begins as a thoroughly bizarre twist but, with enough suspended belief, becomes all part of the fun.
The concluding twist is completely unexpected and very well-played. Elton delivers a thoroughly shocking final act that ties up the remaining loose ends and delivers the book’s message.
The drawback for me is how dark and graphic the novel becomes in parts. The high jinks and nonsense are juxtaposed with a bulimic character who almost kills herself, for example, and crude, explicit sexual details. The unpredictable tone makes it hard to swallow.
Overall, Elton has devised a clever story and writes it very well, creating colourful, hilarious characters that doesn’t quite get three yeses from the panel, but manages to get two and through to the next round.