Top critical review
Sense of humour failure
on 28 December 2015
Sometimes you read a book that you dislike to start with, but end up loving. That's why I persisted with this novel - and by the time I realised it wasn't going to improve, I was so far through I thought I might as well finish. In fact, my dislike only increased throughout the 400 plus pages. The first problem was that I never really understood what the book was trying to be - I gathered it was attempting to be funny, but it just wasn't. Was it farcical or satirical, was it trying to make a real political point? Whatever it was trying to do, it failed - for me at least.
The story centres on a young writer who has been commissioned to write a history of the Winshaws, an extremely powerful and thoroughly horrible British family. There are various sections focussing on different family members, but also on the writer (Michael) himself, and his own history and present. It's all very confused. There's also reference to a film that Michael watched as a child and later becomes obsessed with, which in some ways parallels events in his real life. The film's title - 'What a Carve Up' - represents the way that a small elite has 'carved up' Britain's institutions between them, to the detriment of ordinary people.
It's a stupid, unbelievable story with detestable and totally unrealistic characters. I'm a socialist and no fan of the types of character the Winshaws represent, but even I don't think wealthy, privileged people are this utterly horrible - they're human beings like any other group of society. Serious topics like the arms trade, the 1990s Iraq war, intensive farming methods, and exploitation of young people are mingled in with the farcical plot. This just cheapens these topics.
I know lots of people loved this book, and I myself like Jonathon Coe's other novels, but for me I just couldn't find anything to like here. My sense of humour just failed on this one and it didn't work for me. I wouldn't personally recommend it, but I suggest reading some positive reviews too before making your mind up as they must see something that I can't. However be warned that this is not to everyone's taste, as it wasn't to mine. It just failed to make any positive impression on me.