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A Review Of Ben Elton’s Gridlock

September 29, 2010

This is a guest post by Emma Crees. Thanks to Emma.

I recently went on a hunt for books which have disabled characters. These characters didn’t have to be the main character but they did need to be more than just a “token crip”. I posted in many places and one title that kept being mentioned was Gridlock by Ben Elton. So I requested it from the library and I’ve just finished reading it.

From Amazon:

Gridlock is when a city dies. Killed in the name of freedom. Killed in the name of oil and steel. Chocked on carbon monoxide and strangled with a pair of fluffy dice. How did it come to this? How did the ultimate freedom machine end up paralysing us all? How did we end up driving to our own funeral, in somebody else’s gravy train? Deborah and Geoffrey know, but they have transport problems of their own, and anyway, whoever it was that murdered the city can just as easily murder them.

Two of the major characters in Gridlock have disabilities. Geoffrey has CP and Deborah was hit by a car and became paraplegic (this happened a few years before the book starts). All of the characters in Gridlock are very real and the same is true for the disabled characters. I don’t know much about paraplegia but having CP myself it’s something I do know. I thought the disabilities were extremely well handled. So much so that I was convinced that Ben Elton must be disabled or have had a lot of contact with disabled people (I was thinking close relative or friend) to get it so right. However a Google search failed to bring anything up, other than fact that Gridlock has it’s own page on Wikipedia.

Geoffrey believes in taking back language. He calls himself a spastic and a spasmo and wants to change his name to Geoffrey Spasmo. I love that as I believe in taking back language, just not to the extent that I’d change my name! A previous time in his life when he’d used a wheelchair is mentioned along with his mother’s embarrassment when he had “Spasmobile” engraved on the back of it. It made me think of the time I once went drinking in a Quickie wheelchair with the words “Fancy a…” and a question mark taped above the logo on the back. Crip humour rocks and the addition of that to Ben Elton’s usually humorous books was great.

Some of the positives of being disabled are included such as Geoffrey’s CP saving his life on one occasion. It also doesn’t shy away from some of the more difficult sides of disability – blocked dropped curbs, and attitudes etc. Those are handled well but again with an element of humour. There is a wonderful bit of imagery when Deborah goes for a job interview and her wheelchair is described as getting bigger and bigger and then eventually taking over the room as everyone there notices it and worries about it but doesn’t want to say as much.

OK at times it does get a little ridiculous but the themes of friendship and disability are brilliant and if nothing else it’s silliness in places (particularly with some wheelchair stunts I’m sure most crips would find impossible) is great for a giggle.

And at one point an able-bodied character is referred to by the R word which was jarring and my only major complaint about the book.

I’ve read a few Ben Elton books before but had forgotten how much I enjoy them. If you like his books I think you’ll love this. And regardless of whether or not you’ve read any of his books – I can’t recommend this book enough for those wanting to read something disability positive.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Diego Perez de la Guardia permalink
    June 28, 2012 12:35 pm

    Hello I am currently looking for a book to base my last year university major project on. I’m looking for strong architectural features and spaces, a book that has enough of a challenge to drive the major project. Highly visual in their descriptions of their own worlds and environments whether they are realistic or fantasy.
    Any ideas??
    Many thanks.

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