Kevin's Reviews > Middle England

Middle England by Jonathan Coe
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it was amazing

Yikes! What timing. As I read this book Theresa May's Cabinet was falling apart over the proposed Brexit deal. Old wounds seem to have resurfaced. Only a few days ago I was lectured on the failure of the deal by a pair of Leave supporters who gracefully told me that it was "okay" for me to have voted Remain and the memories of that bitter summer rushed back. Both campaigns seemed contemptuous of the other and as the referendum drew closer their sanctimonious tone seemed to creep ever more into the world around us. Only today I see that the news is filled with reports on the rise of anti-depressant prescriptions after the vote - something I believe would've happened whatever the result. A book about Brexit? Surely that can only stir the pot more

Thankfully, no. In "Middle England" Jonathan Coe manages to take us back even further. To a time when we talked of recession and austerity. Coe goes further than most, acknowledging that Brexit wasn't just a summer campaign that divided the country. He goes back to earlier fractures that led to the vast rift. He even nods back to the 70s to show the path was forming even then. He charts how we sleepwalked into the Brexit referendum, with society slowly drifting away from the oddly polite middle-ground that the British do so well. As island people, we are good at looking inwards, and this book demonstrates how we did it so well our fellow Brits became even more foreign than the European community we were voting on.

At times this book made me laugh out loud. A release of the tension that has resurfaced. The characters are natural and easy to relate to. They are, in the whole, moderates - people you may disagree with, but only in the form of a chat over a drink in the pub. Coe takes an impressively balanced and fair view of his characters in that regard, offering a reasonable spread of views and extremes and acknowledging the backgrounds behind them all. The cast is fairly dull and normal in that regard, and that makes the story enjoyable.

Much as this is pitched as a Brexit novel it does offer far more than that. It is really a story about British people. About their relationships with each other. Brexit simply frames the growing divide that we've witnessed this century. It is amusing and poignant. It offers some hope that the scars of 2016 will heal, even if they are being torn open once more just now. Post-Brexit the book is far more hurried, with many big leaps in the timeline to move things forward, and while it loses some of the investment I had built up in the characters it highlights how far things have moved on since the vote.

If I'm honest, I think there are a lot of people not ready for this book yet. There are people I would share it with, and others who I know would react badly to it. This country still has a long way to go with Brexit and for some, it's just too soon, but it's a great book, and when things stabilise a bit more I'll have even more people to recommend it to.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
November 21, 2018 – Shelved

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