Alan's Reviews > Middle England

Middle England by Jonathan Coe
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Enjoyed this novel which traces the UK's political development from the 2010 election to (almost) present, through the eyes of the characters from the The Rotters' Club (read) and its sequel The Closed Circle (not read). It was interesting to see the arc of UK history from austerity, the 2011 riots, the Olympics (2012), to the divisions and impasse of Brexit. And how little moments have made such a difference, eg did Labour lose in 2010 because of Brown's 'bigot' remark about the woman who asked about immigration and caught because he forgot to switch off his mic? Similarly did they lose in 2015 because Ed Milliband had trouble eating a bacon sandwich? Plus he's a local author so the events were seen from a Midlands/Birmingham perspective (albeit a middle class one). This was all fascinating, but the problem was that the characters didn't engage me, although there were a couple of exceptions. I liked the way the relationship between Sophie (Remain/liberal) and her husband Ian (Leave/conservative) was handled - they represented larger issues, but remained believable. Ian (and his fuming mother!) thinks he is the victim of 'political correctness' at work, being passed over for promotion, and when Sophie, a University lecturer, is suspended due to a misunderstanding about what she said to a transitioning transgender student, he feels vindicated. Sophie is able to see it through however and knows that although it can go too far, 'political correctness' is an attempt to equalise, to remove barriers and biases. (Coe's epithet to this part of the book is 'To the privileged, equality feels like a step down. Understand this and you understand a lot of populist politics today'. Iyad el-Baghadi 2016). The couple split, but later there is some reconciliation, some common ground found.

This depth of character and plot is not to be found elsewhere in the book however, and for a state of the nation novel there is little attempt to portray the victims of austerity, poverty and the demise of public services. (I suppose the clue is in the title). There was a feeling that the writer just bunged in his own experiences (eg aboard a cruise ship touring the Baltic) and tried to shape them to his characters lives, rather than the other way round.
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Reading Progress

February 15, 2019 – Started Reading
February 15, 2019 – Shelved
February 15, 2019 – Shelved as: novels
February 25, 2019 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Canadian (new)

Canadian I read The Rain Before It Falls, Alan, and was less than wowed. I'll be interested in what you have to say about this one.

Alan Will post soon. He's a local writer so There's always a bit of interest for me.

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