Friday, January 25, 2019

'Middle England' by Jonathan Coe

25 January 2019

The EU referendum of June 2016 and the subsequent years of Brexit negotiations have felt like a seismic shock to many people in the UK – something that could not have been foreseen. In his new novel, ‘Middle England’ – which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Rory Kinnear – Jonathan Coe paints a picture of England and the English from 2010 to late 2018 which does a great job of showing how inevitable the referendum result was. This third book featuring the characters from Coe’s 2001 novel 'The Rotters' Club' and its sequel 'The Closed Circle' (2004) shows the growing resentment of large swathes of Middle England to immigration, political correctness, austerity and more, alongside the naive obliviousness of those in their own liberal bubble. By the time the story reaches 2016 it is very clear which way each of the main characters is going to vote. The Rotters Club trilogy has now followed the lives of a group of schoolfriends from Birmingham, their families and friends from the late 1970s to 2018. It sets their stories against real-world political events in a similar way to Frederic Raphael’s ‘The Glittering Prizes’ trilogy and Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole books. Where Jonathan Coe’s hilarious critique of Thatcher’s Britain ‘What a Carve Up’ and its sequel focussing on Cameron's Coalition Government, ‘Number 11’ (reviewed here in January 2016), formed a glorious farce, the Rotters Club novels all have a more melancholic feel. ‘Middle England’ is a very funny comic novel with many laugh-out-loud moments but it also has a pervasive air of sadness. Jonathan Coe was already one of my favourite contemporary authors but this time it felt like he was writing specially for me as ‘Middle England’ includes lengthy descriptions of the 2010 general election, a Baltic cruise and the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. It’s incredibly enjoyable and deeply though-provoking.



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