This was a wide-reached and rambling conversation that touched on so many different societal aspects that I can’t possibly reflect it all here. Additionally, we all had our pop-culture-referencing heads on and we mentioned a plethora of other books, TV shows and real life events from Jasper Fforde to Alan Partridge; Al Jazeera to Fox News; X Factor to CPS so apologies in advance if I missed out on something vital!
For the most part, we quite liked Ben Richards. Although his life was far removed from our own; we understood his motivations. He was a sympathetic character despite his personality (and behaviour) but more importantly he was an excellent guide to his world for the reader. Of particular enjoyment for the majority of us were his daily video updates which were amusing and informative in different measure. His set up was so pathetic and tragic – yet we could also recognise that there are thousands across the world that live under very similar and worst circumstances. Ironically, in real life where people live in such vulnerability; there aren’t really any opportunities like the game to better your lot in life. It’s never a good sign when you consider adding things from a DYSTOPIA into the actual world.
Regarding his treatment by the state – fitting him up as a criminal mastermind, portraying his wife in a less than flattering light nationally, using him as a vent for a society that seems to have no outlet – we barely commented on it. It would appear that our little group members have become inured to our politicians and journalists being consistently less than honest with us on a daily basis. At this we HAD to head off on a little Leveson rant!
To be honest, we were more surprised that there were any willing to assist Ben on the run at all. While there were clear lines of delineation between the have’s and have nots; there were many incentives beyond the purely financial to reporting him. Having said that; I personally enjoyed the idea that those under the bread line were incentivised to work against ‘the man’ and would offer him what little support they could.
As afficiaonados of the dystopian genera; we shared a wry smile as the contrasting way that books or libraries or literature were portrayed as opposed to television. Libraries – therefore knowledge – was reserved for the wealthy. It was only by ‘liberating’ this knowledge that the resistance in Boston was able to develop nose filters for the toxic air, for example. This appears – understandably – to be one of the hallmarks of dystopia and while we do enjoy the feeling of kindship with other readers, we also saw it as a sign of narcissism – in this future – authors remain relevant and part of the solution. It’s obviously not as clunky in the book as I’ve phrased it here, but we still picked up on it!
We couldn’t quite agree on the air filtration sub-plot. For some of us, the state of the air was seen as an example of all the things going wrong in that nation – air in Boston, perhaps water in New York, transport in Washington? For others it felt like an un-necessary element tacked on to enforce the ‘badness’ of the ruling elite and social conditions. The book was already relevant; it felt like over kill.
Throughout the book, there are repeated derogatory references made towards race, gender and sexual orientation that struck each of us differently. For some; the terms used quickly create a social framework – and the offensive wordage was effective in allowing us to see a bigger picture, beyond the mis-adventures of Ben Richards. For others – notably those who were more familiar with Stephen King – the language used repeats a pattern utilised in other of his series such as Dark Tower. This could be a stylistic foible of the author – though as he was trying to write as Bachman not King there were a few book clubbers who found that
Throughout our conversation, repeated references were made to the Arnie film version. Those that had watched the film were staggered by how different a vision of the world it was and yet how many of the essential concepts were successfully translated from the page to the screen. In fact, I wasn’t alone in finding a new found appreciation for the 1987 production. Ben Richards might be ‘as far away from the Arnold Schwarzenegger character in the movie as you can get’ (Stephen King); however those secondary aspects that were included seem more or less the same, though with far less emphasis on screen.
It was hilarious trying to explain the set up to those who had only encountered the book. After all, the starting point must be ‘so it’s Arnie – wearing this mad shiny yellow one-piece – and he is forced to compete in a deadly game; punishment for a crime he did not commit and everything is put on telly…’ dum dum DUM!!
Only one person guessed the outcome from the outset – which was a touch disappointing for them. The majority of us responded well to the countdown style structure of the book; seeing it as an effective way to build up tension and momentum as the book reaches its inevitable and explosive conclusion. However, there were some moments that seemed very unrealistic which jarred with the flow.
We had a great discussion about the political apathy of our age – recognising that we are far more likely within this society to vote for the outcome of a reality tv show than in our political elections; though we couldn’t quite agree on whether we were quite as callous as is described in the book! Once again, Black Mirror was used as a great companion/comparison piece during our chat.
Youtube Trailer for the 1987 Film:
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