England England Paperback – 18 Mar 2005
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Julian Barnes's England, England is a sharp-edged satire of Englishness at the end of the 20th century. The real England is failing--her empire lost, her aspirations to greatness subsiding, her history fading. Megalomaniacal entrepreneur Sir Jack Pitman hits upon the idea of creating an altogether superior, theme-park version of the original on the Isle of Wight (renamed simply the Island). His creative team includes Martha Cochraine, whose own childhood disappointments and unfulfilled dreams Barnes unfolds to the reader in the opening chapters. For a brief moment it looks as if able Martha will outsmart the ruthless Sir Jack, assisted by her grateful, bespectacled lover Paul Harrison (the operation's "ideas catcher"). But this is fantasy, so humble Paul betrays Martha (it would never do for the feisty woman to win after all). She retreats to the real England of faded glory, nostalgic folklore and regret.
In one section of this short novel the theme-park Dr Johnson talks entirely in direct quotations from his distinguished 18th-century counterpart, before being judged insufficiently convincing. The real, we understand, is less compelling than the fake. There are so many cultural allusions per page that the head of even the most enthusiastic English culture snob will spin. --Lisa Jardine
"A treasure chest of wordplays, ironic imagery and gemlike phrasing that's sure to amuse." --The Wall Street Journal
"A brilliant, Swiftian fantasy: a virtual England." --The Economist
"A wonderfully nasty satire . . . perfectly counterbalanced with unexpected poignancy." --San Francisco Chronicle" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The genius of the man lies in the fact that despite his leanings towards the essay his works exist as fully-fledged fictional works. He is arguably the greatest English novelist of the past twenty years and has a much more natural handling of the vagaries of plot and character than most of his contemporaries.
In 'England, England' he takes on the idea of utopia/dystopia but with his usual comic touch. The plot revolves around a businessman's attempts to seal his legacy by creating a sort of mini-England on the Isle of Wight. The island holds everything that foreigners think constitutes England, from Robin Hood to Fish and Chips and even a robin in the snow, and serves as a kind of amusement park come tourist haven, enabling people to experience the breadth of English history and geography in a matter of days.
In terms of ideas Barnes covers capitalism, the real vs the imitation, British tabloids, love, sex and fetishism.
It's one of his more unconventional novels and I probably wouldn't recommend it for a first time reader of Barnes (try 'Talking It Over' instead), but it is probably the novel of his that will be looked at most in academic circles and on university courses and will be read alongside '1984' and 'Brave New World' in the future as a study of utopias/dystopias.
There is a female lead character - very well described in the first part of the book, which makes the reader like her, and in the second part of the book she seems to undergo a personality transformation making her unsympathetic; hard, ironic, ruthless - but we may conclude that the cut-throat capitalist system does this, to her and to many people. In the third part of the book - well You Must Read It!
'England, England' is a fine book, and there's more in there than you might think.
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