More than Middling

3 08 2019

Middle England by Jonathan Coe

 

Beginning eight years ago on the outskirts of Birmingham, where car factories have been replaced by Poundland, and London, where frenzied riots give way to Olympic fever, Middle England follows a brilliantly vivid cast of characters through a time of immense change.

There are newlyweds Ian and Sophie, who disagree about the future of the country and, possibly, the future of their relationship; Doug, the political commentator who writes impassioned columns about austerity from his Chelsea townhouse, and his radical teenage daughter who will stop at nothing in her quest for social justice; Benjamin Trotter, who embarks on an apparently doomed new career in middle age, and his father Colin, whose last wish is to vote in the European referendum. And within all these lives is the story of modern England: a story of nostalgia and delusion; of bewilderment and barely-suppressed rage.

Dealing with contemporary and ongoing events in a novel can be challenging (see this recent review of a largely unsuccessful effort) but Coe manages it here with some style. This is the third novel in the rather extended series of The Rotters’ Club (excellent) and The Closed Circle (much less impressive) and really represents a terrific conclusion to the trilogy (if indeed it turns out to be the final one).

The older and wiser (well, a little perhaps) characters have lost none of their original force and the dealings with their various parents and offspring are really well represented. All of the goings on are extremely smartly represented against the pre- and post-referendum backdrop which fuels much of the debate.

A really great read and a delight to be reunited with Benjamin and friends.

four stars

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