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"Old England had lost its history, and therefore, since memory is identity, had lost all sense of itself.",
This review is from: England England (Paperback)
In this witty satire of English traditions, values, and national identity, the eccentric Sir Jack Pitman gathers a staff of "forward-thinking" consultants and young executives to create the ultimate theme park. Sir Jack intends to relocate (or recreate, if he must) all of England's important tourist sites in one location--the Isle of Wight--creating a "Disneyland" of British history. Time is fluid here--Robin Hood and his band inhabit the woodland while Dr. Samuel Johnson holds forth in the local pub. The Battle of Britain is reenacted while shepherds and farmers cultivate the countryside using the oldest of tools.
The "selling" of the theme park idea to the king, who will appear at functions, and to the Houses of Parliament, which Pitman hopes to move there, is no less ambitious than his plan to challenge the thirteenth century purchase of the Isle of Wight by England so that he himself can govern it as a separate country. Sir Jack hires Martha Cochrane, an ambitious woman nearing forty, to be his primary assistant, along with a cast of eccentric characters, all of whom are determined to produce a new, more compact "England" to which tourists will be drawn in droves.
Throughout this wickedly complex satire, author Julian Barnes examines what constitutes "Englishness," raising issues of what how Britons define reality, what role the Church of England plays in real life, how important to present life are the "roots" of ancient history, and more personal subjects, such as how one defines salvation, what constitutes love, and whether integrity can exist within a business environment. Naturally, the concept of the theme park and its reality do not always mesh. The fake smugglers become real smugglers, Robin Hood and his Merry Men really do rob from the rich, and Dr. Johnson turns out to be an inebriated cynic who refuses to socialize at the pub.
Despite the intriguing concept and the pointed satire, this is a very "talky" novel, with little real action. Conferences in the boardroom or Sir Jack's office vastly outnumber scenes in which something actually happens, and the author's self-conscious wit and arch observations pall in the course of the more than four hundred pages. Sir Jack, Martha Cochrane, and her lover Paul Harrison never develop enough human qualities to add genuine humor to the dark cynicism of the satire, and the reader often feels a bit patronized--left out of the joke. Ultimately, Barnes shows the cycle of history repeating as he fantasizes about the future. An idea more interesting in concept than in execution. n Mary Whipple