Context: Read this while we visited some friends who are having a housing estate built where a school used to be over the back fence.
I haven’t enjoyed a satire this much in ages. Never heard of Jonathan Coe, never heard of this book and so I was very surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. The book pretty much has everything. It’s funny, satirical, wise and very well put together.
The book follows the saga of the Winshaw family through the investigations of writer Michael Owen who finds himself bound up in the saga himself. The book jumps backwards and forwards in time and from different points of view as it relates the family saga. All in all, each member of this repugnant family represents something that has gone wrong with 1980s Britain from arms dealing to intensive farming to the insincerity of journalism.
To a certain extent, you’d need to be familiar with 1980s Britain to get the most out of the book (my usual gripe about satirical literature being only for those in the club) but even if you’re not, there’s plenty here to relate to. And it’s not just about satire either. Coe writes a wonderfully moving death bed scene which was a master class in writing perspective. It was so good, I had to go back and read it again.
The novel has the pace and feel of a detective thriller, with twists and turns and something of a Le Carre feel about it. It keeps you going despite it being quite long. There are a whole variety of writing styles from sections which are effectively non-fiction, to first person realism and simple stretches of whodunit narration. There’s something for everyone here.
I enjoyed the fact that it was focussed on the 80s, a period I remember particularly well as I was in my teens and, in this respect, it reminded me a lot of The Radiant Way which I also enjoyed because of this. There’s a lot more in it though for those who weren’t in the UK in the 80s so if you see this one, it’s well worth picking up, and if you like satire, it’s a must read.