What a Carve Up Audio CD – Audiobook, Abridged
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Audio CD, Audiobook, Abridged
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Big, hilarious, intricate, furious, moving (Guardian)
Probably the best English novelist of his generation (Nick Hornby)
Everything a novel ought to be: courageous, challenging, funny, sad - and peopled with a fine troupe of characters (The Times)
A sustained feat of humour, suspense and polemic, full of twists and ironies (Hilary Mantel Sunday Times) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Jonathan Coe was born in Birmingham in 1961. 'What a Carve Up!' won won the 1995 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and 'The House of Sleep' won the Writers' Guild Best Fiction Award for 1997. 'The Rotters' Club' and 'The Closed Circle' are also available as Penguin Audiobooks.
Top customer reviews
It stirred old memories of injustices and inequality from the past and gives some weight to vague memories of things being 'a bit dodgy but I'm not sure how' that I had at the time.
The structure is very strange with no coherent time line. I couldn't see the reason for this but it didn't really have an impact on being able to follow the story.
It is very funny to the point of farce in some sections, wryly amusing in others and deadly earnest on occasion. It is written from the point of a number of characters and each has their own voice.
It is tempting to see Michael as an autobiographical character, given the age and midlands upbringing. Clearly, seeing the 'What a Carve Up' film was an important event. I am almost exactly the same age and was also taken to see that film one wet afternoon in 1961 by my Dad. More spookily, I am pretty sure it was actually the day Yuri Gagarin's flight was announced as I can remember my dad discussing it with a paper seller.
The final chapter in particular are a virtual re-run of the film and I can't imagine how it works if you haven't seen it. I managed to see it for the first time in over fifty years whilst reading this and it gave me the images to go with the text. It looks as though the author was so struck by the film that he developed the whole thing just to be able to relive the film. A fantastic exercise. The only thing missing was Terry Nelhams at the end. (If you understand that allusion then you have definitely seen the film and remember the 1960s!)
Meanwhile, in Weston-super-mare, Michael Owen is traumatised on his ninth birthday by being dragged out of a screening of a sub-Carry On film, a murder mystery set in a mysterious mansion on the Yorkshire moors.
Switch to 1990 and the Winshaw family have done very well out of the economic changes of the eighties, while Michael has retreated from early success as a writer to become a recluse, failing to complete a biography/expose of the Winshaws. He sits in his flat, endlessly rewatching a scene of coitus interruptus, or rather coitus non initium from the aforementioned film, What a Carve Up!
Jonathan Coe uses this set up to write a massively entertaining, completely OTT, satire of the excesses of the eighties. Different members of the Winshaw family personify different aspects of the darker regions of the late Thatcherite period. Dorothy is, in a particularly stomach churning section, an unscrupulous proponent of factory farming (with dire consequences for Michael's father). Mark is an arms dealer, merrily equipping Saddam Hussein, and peripherally involved in the Westland and Matrix Churchill scandals(with dire consequences for the husband of Michael's friend). Henry is at the forefront of the commercialisation of the NHS. (With dire consequences for Michael's sort of girlfriend). Hilary personifies the Murdoch media, and is a remarkably prescient forerunner of the appalling Katie Hopkins.
Coe makes some serious points, many of the more dreadful acts of the virtually pantomimically villainous Winshaws are, according to the notes at the end, based on real events. However he also brings a massive amount of fun to writing his over-blown tale. The country house theme is a connecting thread throughout the book. It starts almost with a nod to the quintessential eighties TV drama, Brideshead Revisited with its location at Castle Howard. It then descends to the gothic setting for the titular film before shrinking to a game of Cluedo, eventually growing back to full size for the novel's climax in a real life maze of secret passages.
Coe's writing is full of references to other authors, at one point it feels like a Carry-on film scripted by Paul Auster as the ludicrous and seemingly unconnected story threads rub against and spark off each other. There are references on the way to Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. There is also a strong whiff of a West Midlands childhood, bringing to mind Coe's other work, Sathnam Sanghera and even Nigel Slater's Toast. In a strange way, the other book this brought to mind was the History Man. While at opposite ends of the political spectrum, the Winshaws are used to ridicule the faults of the 80s in the same way as Howard Kirk personified some unedifying themes of the 70s.
What a Carve Up is a masterpiece of outrageous plotting as Coe frantically ties together disparate strands with what appear to be ridiculous coincidences which turn out to be the result of heroically Machiavellian machinations.
Alongside the satirical barbs, and the narrative fireworks there is some good, old fashioned, straightforward beautiful writing here. A car journey with a fractious father law is a comedic delight. A scene in a broken down tube train is wonderfully claustrophobic. A death in a hospital is tear inducingly poignant.
If I had any criticisms, they would be firstly that Coe's satirical edge is a little blunt. The Winshaws are just a bit too stereotypically villainous. But then maybe that's just in keeping with the larger than life style of the book. Secondly at times it felt that Coe was trying a bit too hard, throwing so many different stories at the reader that it became rather fragmentary.
Overall though,the verdict has to be that this is great fun, whilst also carrying a bitter satirical edge.
A failing writer is unexpectedly offered a commission to write a book about the history of the Winshaws, one of the country’s most influential families. One member deals arms, another is a vitriolic and sensationalist journalist, still another a factory farming trend-setter.
Through various Winshaw family members and Michael, we see their histories from the 1940s to their present day in the 1990s. Someone commissioned Michael to write his book – but why?
I was hugely impressed as the very separate strands managed to knit themselves together into a whole by the end – there were lots of moments of clarity as I could see pieces slotting into place and making sense.
The build-up of character is also excellent, there’s a murder mystery mixed in here with stories about failing marriages, gangsters, politics, art, seduction, and some wickedly despicable family member you really want to see get what they deserve.
And as the story turns yet again, you realise some of your wishes just may come true.
An ending comes that turned my head a little – a speedy finale that ties up loose ends and concludes with a final scene that I wasn’t quite sure added the closure I wanted, but was certainly memorable.
This could make a stunning film – some amazing roles here for actors, with lots of scope for time-slip between characters, periods and scenes.
I audio-read this, and enjoyed the narrator's voices, which suited the characters well and were differentiated to give a separate personality to each.
Dark, comic and brilliant. I’m glad I stuck with it through the parts that didn’t seem to flow together, as it did all become a glorious black hole of just-desserts by the end.
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The characterisation is pretty abysmal. I didn't feel involved with any of the characters, and was not the least bit moved when...Read more