Veronica's Reviews > Number 11

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe
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bookshelves: fiction, best-books-2016

Even when he's not at his best, Jonathan Coe provides sheer reading pleasure. You can settle happily into his books knowing you're going to enjoy them. This is a kind of sequel to his wonderful What A Carve Up!, that searing satire on rampant Thatcherism (which Coe now wrongly describes as "preachy" and "crude and simplistic"). Coe is still angry, but he's got more weary and cynical since then (but the ending of this book is just as bonkers as the ending of What A Carve-Up!). And once again there are many references to obscure old B-movies (I'm sure I must have missed many of them).

The few surviving Winshaws make appearances in this book, but the five separate stories are held together (tenuously) by Rachel, first as a 10-year old girl being scared by her brother in a spooky church, and finally as an Oxford graduate acting as live-in tutor to the children of an insanely rich couple with an 11-storey basement. In the process Coe attacks a lot of obvious targets: social media, trolling, reality TV, vacuous celebrities, the super-rich, tabloid journalism ... but it's all done in a rather obvious way. There's nothing startling or revelatory here; but still, it's Jonathan Coe, so he's clever, and he often makes me laugh out loud. PC Nathan Pilbeam solves crimes using sociology, politics, economics, psychogeography, and the theories of Freud. To investigate the murders of stand-up comedians, he turns to Aristophanes ... he's known to his colleagues as "Nate of the Station".

There is a deep paradox here though. One of the funniest parts of the book is the investigation into the murders of comedians, who are without exception "young, tousled, slightly overweight white men wearing a loose brightly coloured shirt, untucked at the trouser." Their assassin is motivated by a loathing of political comedy because it allows people to simply laugh at corruption and injustice instead of feeling that they should do something: the “fucking Guardian-reading Pinot Grigio swilling middle-class wankers feel they have to do NOTHING except wait for the next crappy one-liner”. Which is exactly Coe's own argument in an article in the LRB, Sinking giggling into the sea. And yet, he is guilty of it himself! As the Guardian review says, "Coe’s postmodern back-covering would destroy the books of lesser writers. Fortunately, his many virtues make his work indestructible." There's a good interview with him here.
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Reading Progress

November 21, 2015 – Shelved
November 21, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
November 21, 2015 – Shelved as: fiction
January 12, 2016 – Started Reading
January 13, 2016 –
page 0
0.0% "I'm in love with Jonathan Coe, even when he's not st his best."
January 14, 2016 – Finished Reading
December 29, 2016 – Shelved as: best-books-2016

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