Anatomy of a Book: Blast From the Past, by Ben Elton

Only someone bad would ring at such an hour. (p.7)

The phone in Polly’s flat is calling.

The caller did know where Polly lived. (p.9)

Polly has a stalker, named Peter.

I shouldn’t be hugging you, Jack.’ (p.88)

And to complicate things Polly’s former lover, Jack, has arrived at her door. There is more than one reason why Jake has visited Polly, and the exposing is done with classic story elements.

Changing Status:

The status most prevalent is the difference between Jack, an American four-star general, and Polly, a lonely anti-war activist. Jack wears his full-dress military uniform in Polly’s messy apartment, and is hesitant to reveal why he is there.

High Stakes:

Life and reputation, however for the lives and reputations to matter one must care about the characters.

Page Turner:

Why is Jack in the room? He is reluctant to explain his motives for visiting Polly after many years of separation. This ploy is sued by Elton to keep the reader curious.

As the book is set mostly in Polly’s room, it could be better suited as a stage play. This is because what holds the book back are tales of the couple’s history, wedged between sections in the first part of the book. Without them a stage play would have a better pace.

Believable Characters:

There is a lot of background information, however the character of Jack does not hold particularly well. His long speeches as he and Polly argue over the role of the army don’t fit with someone in his status position and with his intention in the room.


Elton is using status imbalance, single room scene, a character’s secret, and a stalker’s pressure as hooks to make the story engrossing. What he actually wants to do is outline the role of the armed forces, keenly the type of people they need to be compared with the behaviour expected of them (which is to do murderous things and be pious). That is an interesting discussion that is shoehorned into a story, and might have been better set in a more believable premise.


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