Cover image for Inconceivable
Elton, Ben.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Dell Publishing, 2000.

Physical Description:
277 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"Delta trade paperbacks."

Reprint. Originally published: London : Bantam Press, 1999.
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A bestseller in the U.K., the latest entertainment from England's comic/novelist Ben Elton comes to the U.S. the same season as its feature film adaptation, titled Maybe Baby. It's the story of a British couple trying to conceive, and the husband's plan to write a screenplay based on their efforts. It might even make Sam's career--or cost him his marriage.

Author Notes

Born May 3, 1959 in Catford, South London, Ben Elton began life as a member of an upper-class academic family. During the war his family had been forced to flee Prague when Hitler invaded. In Godalming Grammar School young Elton participated in amateur dramatics and wrote his first play when he was fifteen years old. He later attended Manchester University and earned a degree in drama.

He started his career as a stand-up comedian in 1980. Joining Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in the Comedy Store in Leicester Square in London, Elton soon became one of the regular masters of ceremony. He continued to do stand-up in order to perform his own material. Soon, however, he branched out into plays, novels, and films. His first novel, Stark (1989), sold well in Britain and Australia. Popcorn, published in 1996, opened as a play in April 1997 and won the Laurence Olivier Award for best comedy in 1998.

(Bowker Author Biography) Ben Elton is the author of four previous novels, Stark, Gridlock, This Other Eden, and Popcorn. He lives with his wife in London.

(Bowker Author Biography) Ben Elton has written the British comedy series The Young Ones. His novels include Popcorn.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Trying to become pregnant can turn sex into an act of forced labor and drudgery. Fortunately, talents like the U.K.'s Elton can turn it all on its head to create a laughing-out-loud novel in which Lucy, using thermometers, New Age remedies, and specimen jars, "keeps trying," and husband Sam, who's a BBC executive, "keeps going along with it all." As this marital tragicomedy unfolds, readers are made privy to the couple's alternating diary entries, thus seeing them as they see each other and themselves, all too often a most incongruent mix. Though married for more than a decade, these two, like so many couples, seem to know precious little about each other and even less about themselves. Lucy's demands almost drive Sam insane, and the stress of "trying" eventually strains their marriage until they hilariously and hurtfully betray each other. Elton strives for a balance between tearful poignancy and belly laughs, and, happily, often succeeds in this clever, entertaining, and timely novel. --Whitney Scott

Publisher's Weekly Review

Despite their repeated efforts, Sam and Lucy Bell, the loving yet infertile protagonists of British comedian Elton's (Popcorn) romantic comedy, cannot conceive a baby. When Lucy decides that their childlessness is at least partly due to the stress brought on by their efforts to conceive, she insists that they each keep diaries, to privately sort out their thoughts and emotions. The two diaries tell the story, with often hilariously divergent perspectives on the couple's reproductive struggle. Yet sperm tests, full-moon "bonks" on Primrose Hill, annoying New Age home remedies and Lucy's long-distance "adoption" of an endangered baby gorilla are not their only concerns. Sam, a frustrated would-be writer, is in the middle of a creative block, and he is also on the verge of losing his less-than-enthralling job as an executive at the BBC. Lucy, meanwhile, is being pursued romantically by a dashing but arrogant clientDshe's a film agentDand against her wishes, Sam is secretly using their troubles and diaries as inspiration for the screenplay he is finally writing. Despite his betrayal, Sam remains sweetly endearing. Elton captures the spirit of the modern bloke and the confusion that arises from a desire to be sensitive to one's partner's emotional needs while fulfilling traditional expectations of manhood. Laced with hip, witty asides, this he-said she-said comedy handily overcomes a somewhat sluggish start and manages to be both touching and laugh-out-loud funny. The book may receive some attention via the film Maybe Baby, based on this novel, directed by Elton and released in Australia this past August. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Dear ...?   Dear.   Dear Book?   Dear Self? Dear Sam.   Good. Got that sorted out. What next?   Lucy is making me write this diary. Except it's not a diary. It's a 'book of thoughts'. 'Letters to myself' is how she put it, hence the 'Dear Sam' business, which of course is me. Lucy says that her friend, whose name escapes me, has a theory that conducting this internal correspondence will help Lucy and me to relax about things. The idea is that if Lucy and I periodically privately assemble our thoughts and feelings then we'll feel less like corks bobbing about on the sea of fate. Personally, I find it extraordinary that Lucy can be persuaded that she'll become less obsessed about something if she spends half an hour every day writing about it, but there you go. Lucy thinks that things might be a whole lot better if I stopped trying to be clever and started trying to be supportive.   It's now five minutes later and I find I have no thoughts and feelings to assemble. Lucy has been right all along. I'm a sad, cold, sensitivity-exclusion zone who would rather read the newspaper than have an emotion. I always thought she was exaggerating.   Dear Penny   I'm writing to you, Penny, because in my childhood you were my imaginary friend and I feel that I'll be more open and honest if I personify the part of myself to which I'm addressing these thoughts. Does that make sense? I do hope so because, quite frankly, if ever I needed an imaginary friend I need one now. The truth is that I want to have a baby. You remember how our favourite game when I was a child was looking after babies? Well, things haven't changed at all, right down to the fact that I still haven't actually got a baby to look after. This thing, so simple to many women, is proving very difficult for me. Sam and I have been trying for five years (I hate that word, we used to make love, or have a good shag, now we 'try'), and so far not a hint. You could set your watch by my periods.   Sometimes I feel quite desperate about it and really have to struggle not to be jealous of women who have babies, which I loath myself for. Occasionally, and I hate to write this, I'm even jealous of women who've had miscarriages. I know that sounds awful and I'm quite certain I wouldn't say it if I'd had one myself, but at least I'd know I could conceive. I don't know anything. My wretched body simply refuses to react at all.   However, and let me say this very firmly, Penny, I'm determined that I am not, I repeat NOT, going to become obsessed about all this. If, God forbid, it turns out that I cannot have children, then so be it. I shall accept my fate. I shall not acquire eight dogs, two cats, a rabbit, and a potbellied pig. Nor will I go slightly mad and talk too loudly about topiary at dinner parties. I shall not be mean about people who have children, calling them smug and insular and obsessed by their kids. Nor will I go on about my wonderful job (which it isn't anyway) to harassed mums who've not spoken adult English for two and a half years and have sick all over their shoulders and down their backs.   I will also desist from writing letters to imaginary friends. I hope that doesn't sound hurtful to you, Penny, but I feel I must be firm at this juncture. Whatever the fates decide for me, I intend to remain an emotionally functional woman and I absolutely SWEAR that I will not get all teary when I walk past Mothercare on my way to the off licence like I did last week.   What does she find to write about? I've been sitting watching her for ten minutes and she hasn't paused once. What can she possibly be saying?   The most important thing to remember, Penny, is that there are many ways of being a whole and fulfilled woman and that Motherhood is only one of them. It just happens to be the most beautiful, enriching, instinctive, and necessary thing that a woman can do and is entirely the reason that I feel I was put upon this earth. That's all.   However, as I say, despite remaining resolutely unobsessed, I do not intend to give up without a fight. Five years is too long and I have decided that after two more periods I'll seek medical help. Sam doesn't like this idea much. He says that it's a matter of psychology, claiming that whilst at the moment we can still see ourselves as simply unlucky, if we go to a doctor we'll be admitting that we are actually infertile and from that point on we'll be forever sad. Of course, the real reason that Sam doesn't want to go to a doctor is because it's the first step on a road that will almost certainly lead to him having to masturbate in National Health Service semen collection rooms. However, we're going to do it, so T-F-B, mate, too flipping bad.   This really is very depressing.   And to think that I had dreams of being a writer. Oh well, at least this sorry exercise serves the purpose of shattering for all time any remaining illusions I might have had about possessing even a modicum of creative talent. If I can't even write a letter to myself, then scintillating screenplays and brilliantly innovative television serials at the very cutting edge of the zeitgeist are likely to be somewhat beyond my grasp.   Oh good, she's finally stopped.   So what I'll do is I'll just carry on writing this sentence I'm writing now for a moment or two longer ... so that it doesn't look like I stopped just because she did ... Ho hum, dumdy dum ... What can I say? Saturday tomorrow, going to see George and Melinda plus offspring.   Brilliant, Sam. Give the boy a Pulitzer Prize. That's it, finito.   Dear Penny   I must admit that going to see Melinda and George with their new baby today was a bit difficult. I hate being envious, but I was. It was so sweet, a little boy and absolutely beautiful. He's got quite a bit of dark hair and is very fat in a tiny sort of way. Couldn't get over his little fingers, I never can with brand new babs. Just gorgeous.   Dear Book   I'm very worried about George and Melinda's new sprog. Ugly as a monkey's arse. Couldn't say so, of course, but I could see that poor old George was dubious. He calls it Prune which I think is fair, although 'old man's scrotum' would probably be closer to the mark; what with that strange black hair and so much skin one could easily imagine him swinging between the legs of some prolaptic octogenarian.   I had hoped that the sight of young Prune (or Cuthbert as he is called) might put Lucy off a bit, make her see that there are enormous risks involved with propagation. Remind her that for every Shirley Temple there's a Cuthbert. The thought of having to face those chasmic, gaping, bawling toothless gums five times a night would, I imagine, make any woman reach for the condoms. Quite the opposite, though. She thinks he's utterly adorable. Amazing. It's like we're looking at different babies. I mean, I know he'll probably turn out all right. All babies start off looking like the last tomato in the fridge, but 'cute', 'gorgeous' and 'adorable', which were the adjectives Lucy was throwing about the place with gay abandon, struck me as the ravings of an insane and blind woman.   Quite frankly, I began to see King Herod in a wholly different light.   I got home feeling all clucky and sad but I am determined to resist maudlin 'I'm barren' mawkishness. The truth is, though, I fear that I am barren and if that isn't enough to make me mawkish I don't know what is. I mean, some girls are up the duff straight off. Lucky bitches. Their eggs just seem to be genetically programmed sperm magnets. My friend Roz from college could get pregnant just by phoning her husband at work and if you believe what you read in the papers half the schoolgirls in the country are teenage mums. But some women, I'm afraid, women like me, well forget it. I'm about as fertile as the Lord Chief Eunuch at the Court of the Manchurian Emperor. I couldn't even grow cress at school. All I ended up with was a mouldy flannel.   However, as I say, I am determined to approach this period of my life positively. Hence these letters to you, Penny, the point of which, according to my friend Sheila (who saw an Oprah on the subject), is that Sam and I become proactively involved in our emotional journeys. We cease to be mere corks bobbing about on the sea of fate and instead become partners with our feelings. Sheila says that according to several American experts whom Oprah spoke to, the desire to have children is entirely natural and good and we should embrace it whether it turns out that we are fertile (I hate that word, it makes me feel like a failed heifer) or not.   Sheila does not have children herself but she understands the desire to nurture them very well, being a theatrical agent.   Dear Book   Another evening, another desperate effort to think of something to write about.   God, I'd love a shag. I really really would like a shag. But we can't. We're off sex at the moment and I must say I miss it. Lucy is over there looking saucier than the condiments shelf at Sainsbury's. The very definition of the word shaggable. Sitting on the bed, wearing nothing but a pyjama top, bare legs raised, tongue pointing out of the side of her mouth, nose wrinkled in concentration. She really is so beautiful sometimes. But I'm not allowed to jump on her. Oh no. Absolutely not. Can't even pop into the lav and give the old fellah a slap to relieve the tension. We're saving up my sperm, you see. It's this month's theory and it's one of my least favourite.   Excerpted from Inconceivable by Ben Elton All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.