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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was moved, amused and enraged
A real broad canvas of a novel that examines life under the Thatcher government in 1980s Britain, but it's not just a piece of political tub-thumping. The story plants its roots in the 1940s and uses the shenanigans of a particular influential family to illustrate the gradual dismantling and restructuring of British society and, above all, how the whims of this one group...
Published on 28 July 2004 by Backdrifter

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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ooh,matron! and other things about the nanny state
This worked brilliantly as a scathing (justifiably so) critique of the Thatcher years - the greed,the naked self interest,the hypocrisy -and also managed to capture quite chillingly how Britain appears to have atrophied as a result of that era (the Sid James / Kenneth Connor film from which the novel takes it's title being a sly pun, not only about how a small number...
Published on 26 Oct. 1999


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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I was moved, amused and enraged, 28 July 2004
By 
Backdrifter (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: What a Carve Up! (Paperback)
A real broad canvas of a novel that examines life under the Thatcher government in 1980s Britain, but it's not just a piece of political tub-thumping. The story plants its roots in the 1940s and uses the shenanigans of a particular influential family to illustrate the gradual dismantling and restructuring of British society and, above all, how the whims of this one group of people have far-reaching and devastating consequences for the average person on the street.
But I don't want to make it sound like a grim sociopolitical tract. At times, it's incredibly funny, and occasionally very touching. It's bookended by World War II and the Gulf War, but its examination of society probes like a laser beam into the minutiae of everyday things that affect us all, like public transport, healthcare, what we eat, how we think. Ultimately, it's a very human novel, superbly constructed and deserving of high praise.
And while I kind of see what previous reviewers mean about it not appealing to Tories or illustrating a class war, I should try to look beyond those issues because this isn't just a book about politics, it's about people - it's about us, and what we have allowed to happen to our society.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christie + Wodehouse + Waugh + Hitchens = A Great Novel, 22 Jan. 2008
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
The shifting fortunes of England between WWII and the early 1990s is the subject of this broad, complex, genre-blending, scathing, and hilarious satire from one of Britain's best contemporary writers. The framework for this is a fictitious Yorkshire family, whose tentacles extend deeply into politics, media, and the corporate world. The Winshaws include: Arms dealer Mark, MP Henry, widely-read columnist Hilary, investment banker Thomas, art dealer Roddy, industrial poultry executive Dorothy, and institutionalized Tabitha. Struggling novelist Michael Owen is commissioned by Tabitha to write the family history, and in the course of his research, Owen comes to realize that the Winshaws are "wretched, lying, thieving, self-advancing" elites whose actions embody the decline of the country.

In a dizzying feat of narrative, we learn of the Winshaws' private and public lives, how they all intersect, and especially how intellectually and morally shallow they each are. For example, via Hilary, we see the rise of Murdoch-style tabloid journalism, via Thomas the insider trading scandals, and via Henry, the trainwreck of Tory/Thatcherite economic policies. But as if this wasn't enough to keep the reader's attention, the story also works in a mystery involving two mysterious deaths, and a strange running congruence to the 1961 comedy film What A Carve Up! The result is a whirlwind of genres, including old-fashioned Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, P.G. Wodehouse-style comic novel, Evelyn Waugh-style social satire, and Christopher Hitchens-style political polemic, all of which combine for a thoroughly entertaining read.

Some may find fault in Coe's ripe and vivid portrayal of this family of scoundrels, but it's entirely in keeping with the satiric and farcical tone of the work. More importantly, it's entirely in keeping with the political nature of the story, for this is that rarest of beasts, a thoroughly entertaining political novel. Coe unabashedly lays the blame for social woes at the feet of the businessmen (and women), politicians, and pundits who profited throughout the "greed is good" '80 and '90s as the poor grew poorer. And if anything, the twelve plus years since its publication only vindicate his selection of targets as -- at least in America -- we have experienced war based on politically-based lies, ever-increasing consolidation and dumbing down of the media, corporate fraud on a massive scale, bioengineering of food -- all of which are directly attacked in the novel. A wonderful novel, one well worth rereading every few years.

Note: Originally titled "What a Carve Up!" in the UK, the book was retitled as "The Winshaw Legacy" for the US.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It ROCKS, 19 July 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: What a Carve Up! (Paperback)
You simply HAVE to read it. It re-affirms that the novel is not dead as an art form (the structure is simply astounding), it proves that you can write a novel that is both politically astute and personally relevant - and it is further proof that an intelligent, sophisticated book can be funny enough to make you cry with laughter. It is an absolute masterpiece that I have bought for more than ten people, each one of whom has agreed that it is one of the best novels of the last ten years. Buy it and see why - you will not be disappointed
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A BRILLIANT SATIRE ON EIGHTIES BRITAIN, 16 Nov. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: What a Carve Up! (Paperback)
Jonathan Coe is a genius - producing an extremely complex yet accurate dissection of an epoch - while at the same time writing a book which is dazzlingly entertaining. The Winshaws, whose tentacles reach into every aspect of life in Thatcher's Britain, are mesmerisingly awful. And though they are clearly comic figures, and therefore larger than life, at the same time they are all too recognisable and real. Coe's success is in marshalling this cast of characters into an enormously wide-reaching narrative and hingeing it together in the figure of Michael Owen, who is commissioned to write the family history by mad Aunt Tabitha. He uncovers a writhing can of worms, and finds his own life profoundly affected by the activities of the ruthlessly selfish Winshaws. Other attempts to satirise 80s Britain seem pathetic in comparison with this. This is REAL satire - excoriating, totally realistic and wickedly, bitingly, funny.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange But Good - And Oddly Relevant, 12 Aug. 2009
This review is from: What a Carve Up! (Paperback)
I had no expectations of this book and was unfamiliar with the author or the plot before I read it, which helped because obviously I had no preconceptions and as a result the message hit me full force. The plot involving the Winshaws, along with their differing and far reaching effects, served as an 'everyman' portrait of the greedy and privileged Tory during the Thatcher era and displayed how by domination these people changed the face of Britain. Being slightly too young to remember this era in much detail, I was more affected by how the book once again becomes relevant now, during the recession caused by much the same thinking - huge wealth, overproduction, running risks with the livelihood of others, corrupt government. So for this reason alone it is well worth a read because it has a resonance now that shows we haven't really come that far, but also we are not the first generation to experience these issues.

The writing is good; I didn't notice that the prose was amazing or that it was rubbish so it was just there to move the plot along, which is fine. I did find, however, that the section dealing with Michael's girlfriend and her illness very well written and handled sensitively without too much preaching. He just told it as it was and the events spoke for themselves. Up until this point I must say I didn't really have much interest in Michael lazing about wondering why he was put on the planet and the obsession with the film, although the point, got a bit tedious throughout this.

The ending is hard to review because it was so obviously supposed to be silly and there is no point being annoyed with it on that basis. I feel like the story had come to it's natural end with the hospital incident and the events in the Winshaw house were there just to tie the (not too compelling) mystery up and to complete the significance of the intertextuality with the film. So, yes, it was a bit daft and perhaps uneccessary, but maybe the book would have felt a bit too heavyhanded without the relative lightheartedness. This is just a conclusion to a book that is abstract in lots of ways and realistic in many others, it is the balance of cold fact and strangeness that makes it, although not perfect, a thoroughly decent read.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Political Novel, 4 Aug. 2002
By A Customer
This is the first Coe book I've read and I loved it. It's funny and clever, develops the plot in a fragmented, looping chronology with multiple perspectives, sources, and interlocking stories - all presided over by a very unhappy and frustrated lead narrator. You know, the sort of things you find in Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, and Will Self novels (and seemingly all serious films since at least 'Pulp Fiction'). But it is more straightforward, with less literary ambition, or pretension, than what I've read from those authors. The story is much easier to follow, and one can say exactly what happens at the end, rather than speculating on the desultory and stridently ambiguous finishes those other authors frequently give us.
The unfashionable clarity is a result of the book's overt politics. I find that Amis and Self bury their political commentary in stories that focus on how tormented their characters feel by the unexplained vagaries of life and how irreversibly complex it's all become. Coe, on the other hand, is willing to identify and blame the forces that have made society such a mess and living so hard to figure out. It's not some Fat Controller with supernatural powers, nor a mysterious seeming-friend doing improbable things with the money system to play out a personal grudge. It's right-wing politicians and businesses who, among other things: control our news sources and fill them with meaningless gossip or misleading agitprop, stoke up wars and profit on arms sales, industrialise food production at the expense of the ecology and consumer health, and intentionally ruin our public services to serve their theological devotion to laissez faire economics. In this way, Coe actually has more intellectual heft than the authors who imply that the world is just cosmically, unfathomably unfair and unpleasant. He's telling us that the malignant forces are entirely within our control, were we willing to stand up to the bent plutocratic filth that are allowed to run our governments and economy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Carve UP!, 10 May 2013
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This review is from: What a Carve Up! (Paperback)
This is a clever book that makes a profound statement on the Thatcherite era that has (arguably) left us with many of the problems we face today. The book is about a rich, privileged and downright nasty family called the Winshaws who, through their obsessions with making money and gaining power, indirectly cause the Gulf War; cause thousands of people to lose their pensions, and cause people to die. The family are eventually held accountable for their actions in a very....grisly way. The book is macabre to say the least so it might not be something you want to read immediately after dinner. One way in which the novel could be criticised is that the Winshaw family members are too evil to be credible as human beings. While I believe that this is a fair criticism, I think more can be gained from seeing each Winshaw allegorically. This can potentially offer a more enriching interpretation of the novel as the Winshaw characters can be read in several ways through an allegorical reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkably easy to read - but reflection shows how stunning and well-crafted it is, 31 July 2010
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This review is from: What a Carve Up! (Paperback)
I've come to Coe late, and recently read this, as well as The House of Sleep and The Rotters' Club in quick succession. He's a fabulous writer. He has an enviable 'light touch' an excellent comedic sense, which he uses like a sugar pill to disguise the deep, serious nature of his writing. Fundamentally, I think he is writing about politics, and examining the nefarious nature of capitalism. He doesn't bang you on the head with simplistic, didactic polemic. He seduces you with wit, compassion, narrative, much more wit, and then delivers rapier sharp conclusions - in the very best 'show, don't tell' manner

What A Carve Up does for the 80's, Thatcher's greedy 'there is no such thing as society' decade, what The Rotter's Club did for the 70's

The telling, layered title of the book refers to the film What A Carve Up [1961] [DVD], starring Sid James, Shirley Eaton, Kenneth Connor, which exerts a profound effect on at least 2 of the central characters - scenes from this film are replayed in different ways throughout the book. At a deeper level, the title of the book also serves to encapsulate the dismantling of the public sector which took place in the 80s. It refers to the carve-up of our assets, and the effects of privatisation.

The structure of the book is stunning. A writer (because of a complex subplot which doesn't get revealed until the end) is hired to produce a biography of a wealthy family, all of whom, in different ways, are bedded deeply into the various power complexes of the state - the food industry, the financial sector, Parliament, the media, defence. And are rampant self-servers, to a man and woman, symbolising what happens when self-interest is followed at the expense of 'there's-no-such-thing-as'-society. The book flips back and forth between the seminal setting the scene events of a particular day in 1961, to the writer's personal storyline, and chapters from the developing careers and personalities of, the various biographical subjects. There is also the construction of a second book, which will be a fictionalised version of the beginning-to-be-too-hot-to-handle biography.

We meet a cast of believable, individuals outside the central ones (writer and 'The Family') - none of whom are wasted. Coe skilfully, effortlessly (to the reader's eye) connects the spider's web. The interconnected life proves, again and again, the lie of 'there is no such thing as society'.

And flowing through all this, seductively, engagingly, is the humour....and behind this the ability to make the pain of humanity plain, a fine sense of individual psychology. Coe has that right combination of heart and head coupled with flair, imagination, artistry and, innate, the ability to be that magical teller of tales, the weaver of a story, a spell-binder.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christie + Wodehouse + Waugh + Hitchens = A Great Novel, 22 Jan. 2008
By 
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
The shifting fortunes of England between WWII and the early 1990s is the subject of this broad, complex, genre-blending, scathing, and hilarious satire from one of Britain's best contemporary writers. The framework for this is a fictitious Yorkshire family, whose tentacles extend deeply into politics, media, and the corporate world. The Winshaws include: Arms dealer Mark, MP Henry, widely-read columnist Hilary, investment banker Thomas, art dealer Roddy, industrial poultry executive Dorothy, and institutionalized Tabitha. Struggling novelist Michael Owen is commissioned by Tabitha to write the family history, and in the course of his research, Owen comes to realize that the Winshaws are "wretched, lying, thieving, self-advancing" elites whose actions embody the decline of the country.

In a dizzying feat of narrative, we learn of the Winshaws' private and public lives, how they all intersect, and especially how intellectually and morally shallow they each are. For example, via Hilary, we see the rise of Murdoch-style tabloid journalism, via Thomas the insider trading scandals, and via Henry, the trainwreck of Tory/Thatcherite economic policies. But as if this wasn't enough to keep the reader's attention, the story also works in a mystery involving two mysterious deaths, and a strange running congruence to the 1961 comedy film What A Carve Up! The result is a whirlwind of genres, including old-fashioned Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, P.G. Wodehouse-style comic novel, Evelyn Waugh-style social satire, and Christopher Hitchens-style political polemic, all of which combine for a thoroughly entertaining read.

Some may find fault in Coe's ripe and vivid portrayal of this family of scoundrels, but it's entirely in keeping with the satiric and farcical tone of the work. More importantly, it's entirely in keeping with the political nature of the story, for this is that rarest of beasts, a thoroughly entertaining political novel. Coe unabashedly lays the blame for social woes at the feet of the businessmen (and women), politicians, and pundits who profited throughout the "greed is good" '80 and '90s as the poor grew poorer. And if anything, the twelve plus years since its publication only vindicate his selection of targets as -- at least in America -- we have experienced war based on politically-based lies, ever-increasing consolidation and dumbing down of the media, corporate fraud on a massive scale, bioengineering of food -- all of which are directly attacked in the novel. A wonderful novel, one well worth rereading every few years.

Note: Originally titled "What a Carve Up!" in the UK, the book was retitled as "The Winshaw Legacy" for the US.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tightly interlocking symmetry, 22 Oct. 2007
By 
Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: What a Carve Up! (Paperback)
My original introduction to Coe's work was the excellent The Rotters' Club. Reading it, one of the things that struck me was the way Coe was able to bring a historical perspective to bear on (what I thought was) a recent period - namely, the mid-70s. He does the same in this book for the 80's and early 90's, and it's remarkable how assured his touch is, considering most of his readers will have their own impressions of Mrs Thatcher's reign and the way it changed the UK for ever. But that's not the only ingredient in this tale.

Coe personalises his history by telling the story of Michael Owen, his interaction with the Winshaw family, his hesitant relations with his neighbour and his obsession with the film of the title, which he saw part of on his ninth birthday before being pulled out of the cinema. The echoes of that experience stay with him throughout his life, and turn up in other tales (a Winshaw even attempts to visit the set of the film at one point) in an oddly compelling fashion. The way in which Owen's story is pencilled in makes him a fully-realised character (by contrast, the Winshaws are - probably intentionally - almost cartoonish in their wickedness, although memorable in their own ways as well). And the deft way in which Coe interweaves big themes - love, greed, loneliness, regret - throughout the stories and connects disparate incidents together make this a compelling read, leaving a lasting impression of a tightly constructed, immensely satisfying book.
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What a Carve Up!
What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe (Paperback - 19 May 2008)
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