Bournville: From the bestselling author of Middle England
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I have previously read two of Jonathan Coe’s novels – his 1994 “What A Carve Up” and 2015 part-sequel “Number 11” – both very readable and enjoyable (if rather didactic and over-preaching to the converted) social satires drawing on English farce and (more oddly) spoof horror movies – the first novel in particular also surprisingly formally inventive. The last part of the novel, featuring the death of the family matriarch during lockdown, isolated from those who love her, is the most personal (for the author) and pointed – although I was slightly unsure where the anger is directed as while the author’s note finished with a reference to following the rules “unlike the occupiers of number 10 Downing Street” the 2020 sections seems to feature numerous examples of rule breaching including by characters to who we are sympathetic. All the absurdities of our nation wrapped up in something as bitter, sweet, and addictive as a bar of the best Bournville chocolate -- Amanda Craig, author of The Golden Rule Affectionate, full of good humour, and often moving, this is Coe at his best.
The chocolate wars on the definition of the amount of fat allowed was strangely fascinating, but I felt that there could have been more on Brexit than a few opposing opinions. At times it feels like the narrative is more about the historical event, with the family fitting around it and reacting to the events. E con questo abbiamo pressoché esaurito gli argomenti perché uno dei limiti del romanzo è che in primo piano non accade granché di rilevante e i personaggi senza eccezione appaiono stereotipi del conservatore rampante, dell’artista con tendenze gay, dell’anziano padre incapace di accettare una nuora di colore e così via.and Number 11, and family sagas such as The Rotters' Club and The Rain Before It Falls, his novels have won prizes at home and abroad, including Costa Novel of the Year and the Prix du Livre Européen (both for Middle England). The sections deal with her/their thoughts and feelings on each occasion, the relationships within the family and how those develop as they grow up, change, have families of their own (or not), and their reminiscences about the past and their lives. share that particular crown - it was a consistently good one, and it wins bonus points for ridiculing that awful, awful arserag, Boris Johnson. Like a murmurous river, like the incoming wash of the tide, a distant counterpoint to the swish, swish, swish of her broom on the step, a disembodied voice whispering in her ear, over and over, the mantra: Everything changes, and everything stays the same. As we travel through 75 years of social change, from James Bond to Princess Diana, and from wartime nostalgia to the Internet, one pressing question starts to emerge: will these changing times bring Mary's family - and their country - closer together, or leave them more adrift and divided than ever before?
Bournville, like Middle England, is a state-of-the-nation novel that seeks to respond to a question asked by a German musician early in the book: “This new path you’ve taken in the last few years – why exactly did you choose it?It just feels a little empty, like a collage of very different things that don’t necessarily make a sound, finished plot.
Despite the 75-year time span and the large cast of characters, the book is eminently readable and defines characters through the events they lived through. The book’s assertion is that the fat was first added due to wartime shortages and that the British love of UK-style milk-chocolate is effectively a form of post war nostalgia (as an aside there is also the small fact that it tastes delicious). Feature films have been made of his novels The Dwarves of Death (as Five Seconds To Spare) and The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim (as La vie très privée de Monsieur Sim). The characters are believable and well drawn, the premise is tantalising and skillfully constructed.
We have the King’s speech on VE Day; the next time we visit the family in Bournville is for the coronation in 1953.