Middle England
Set in the Midlands and London over the last eight years, Jonathan Coe follows a brilliantly vivid cast of characters through a time of immense change and disruption in Britain. There are the early married years of Sophie and Ian who disagree about the future of Britain and, possibly, the future of their relationship; Sophie's grandfather whose final act is to send a postal vote for the European referendum; Doug, the political commentator, whose young daughter despairs of his lack of political nous and Doug's Remaining Tory politician partner who is savaged by the crazed trolls of Twitter. And within all these lives is the story of England itself: a story of nostalgia and irony; of friendship and rage, humour and intense bewilderment.As acutely alert to the absurdity of the political classes as he is compassionate about those who have been left behind, this is a novel Jonathan Coe was born to write.

Middle England Details

TitleMiddle England
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 8th, 2018
PublisherViking
ISBN-139780241309469
Rating
GenreFiction, Contemporary, European Literature, British Literature, Modern

Middle England Review

  • Paromjit
    January 1, 1970
    Jonathan Coe continues on themes that have been his natural areas of interest, this time he acutely observes the painfully divisive and depressing state of the nation since 2010 and Brexit through previous characters he once again resurrects along with the creation of new ones. Cameron as Prime Minister breaks Britain apart with his partner in crime, Osborne, inflicting an austerity on the poor and middle class whilst those who created the economic crisis, the bankers, walk away with impunity. C Jonathan Coe continues on themes that have been his natural areas of interest, this time he acutely observes the painfully divisive and depressing state of the nation since 2010 and Brexit through previous characters he once again resurrects along with the creation of new ones. Cameron as Prime Minister breaks Britain apart with his partner in crime, Osborne, inflicting an austerity on the poor and middle class whilst those who created the economic crisis, the bankers, walk away with impunity. Cameron's misjudgements are now legendary and it is unlikely history will be kind to him, his willingness to put Tory Eurosceptics above the interest of the country along with his efforts to encroach on UKIP territory for votes with his referendum on leaving Europe. He then proceeds to walk away from the unholy mess he created, the architect of the incoming car crash government of Teresa May. Coe's trademark wit and comic humour is present, albeit severely curtailed given the bleakness of the circumstances. His characters capture the rage and anger prevalent in the nation, the precarious economic uncertainties blamed on immigrants and Europe, the inability of so many to come to terms with the new realities amidst a nostalgia for the past when Britain actually made things. Families and marriages are torn apart or hampered by desperately strained relationships, trying to ignore key faultlines in their differing perspectives. Coe takes us through the years with the 2011 riots and Coriander developing her radical political perspectives, whilst despising her out of touch political commentator of a father and her mother's lifestyle. The brief illusory moments of national unity provided by the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics captivate a number of the characters, especially the gay Sohan. The Leave Campaign's twisted lies and manipulation takes place in a toxic climate with key elements of the press labelling those who oppose Leave as enemies of the state and traitors, as the country's deep fissures are publicly exposed. Coe excels in the connections he makes between the personal and the political, the past and present, and in capturing the seismic shifts of a nation as its mental health disintegrates with Brexit. Whilst there is very little cheer in the bleakness of future prospects, there are distinct moments of solidarity, support and hope. Benjamin reaching out to a long lost childhood friend experiencing the sharp end of austerity with his reliance on foodbanks, the possibility of a marriage saved from the brink of permanent separation, and other examples provide the small chinks of light for the future. I found myself completely immersed in this perceptive and timely study of Britain and Brexit through the well honed characters that inhabit this novel. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Penguin UK for an ARC.
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  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    Set between the general election of 2010 that ushered in the coalition government and September 2018, this is a 'state of the nation' novel that tells the story of our times. Anyone who voted Leave may want to approach this with caution and have the blood pressure tablets handy; the rest of us can relive the tumultuous events of the last 8 years from the riots to Jo Cox, from the Olympics to the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, and all the hideous hatred and vitriolic rhetoric that Brexit has legitim Set between the general election of 2010 that ushered in the coalition government and September 2018, this is a 'state of the nation' novel that tells the story of our times. Anyone who voted Leave may want to approach this with caution and have the blood pressure tablets handy; the rest of us can relive the tumultuous events of the last 8 years from the riots to Jo Cox, from the Olympics to the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, and all the hideous hatred and vitriolic rhetoric that Brexit has legitimised. Coe isn't really saying anything new here as his characters line up on both sides of the debate: those who think there's nothing wrong in poking fun at "lezzers" (vegetarian, at that!), or quoting Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood' speech with a patronising 'told you so' air; or those with a more inclusive, compassionate, complex and layered sense of what it means to be 'English' today like young academic Sophie. There's less humour here than we might expect from Coe but I would guess that he's as disheartened as many of us with the re-emergence of the alt-right, the wistful yearning to turn the clock back to a mythical 1950s England, and the utter chaos caused by Brexit. For all that, there's a tentatively hopeful ending - though it has to take place partly outside of England itself. Many thanks to Penguin for an ARC via NetGalley
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  • Blair
    January 1, 1970
    Middle England revisits characters from Coe’s earlier novels The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle – I suppose the three books could be said to form a loose trilogy – and follows them from 2010 to the present day. Their experiences are juxtaposed with a wealth of political developments and newsworthy events: the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, Amy Winehouse’s death, the London riots, the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, the run-up to the EU referendum, Victoria Wood’s death, the murder of J Middle England revisits characters from Coe’s earlier novels The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle – I suppose the three books could be said to form a loose trilogy – and follows them from 2010 to the present day. Their experiences are juxtaposed with a wealth of political developments and newsworthy events: the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, Amy Winehouse’s death, the London riots, the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, the run-up to the EU referendum, Victoria Wood’s death, the murder of Jo Cox, the results of the referendum and its aftermath – to name a few of the developments that loom large in this particular story.While all this is going on, we get glimpses of what's happening in the lives of our cast, made up of the The Rotters’ Club alumni, now middle-aged, and their younger relatives. Doug struggles to connect with his teenage daughter, the unfortunately-named Coriander. Benjamin gets a book published and it’s unexpectedly nominated for the Booker. His niece Sophie marries a man she isn’t sure about, and later gets suspended from her job in academia when she’s accused of discriminating against a student. (Sophie is in many ways the saving grace of this novel, but my god, her relationship with Ian resulted in some of the strongest second-hand frustration I’ve ever felt.)I often found myself thinking Middle England would make a better read for someone who knows very little about British politics and current affairs of the past decade and is looking for an entertaining primer. If you’re British and/or live in the UK, you can’t fail to have been aware of the events depicted in this book, because they’re all major social or political developments that happened 7 or 8 years ago at most. In fact, I’d imagine most readers will have had more meaningful experiences of these things than Coe’s characters do. Too many sequences feel like they are merely soulless rehashes of news stories.It was nice to read a novel about this political era set predominantly outside London (most of it takes place in and around Birmingham). There are some fantastic individual scenes: Benjamin and Lois scattering their parents’ ashes, for example, and Sophie’s reconciliation with her trans student Emily, and Benjamin and Jennifer’s goodbye. In these small, personal moments – too-scarce glimpses into the humanity of the characters – the book is at its best. A few entertaining sections in which a journalist meets up with a obsequious politician, illustrating the changing nature (but consistent hypocrisy) of government over the years, are also very good.The bigger picture, however, is disappointing. The novel culminates in a plotline about the effects of Brexit in which the worst the characters have to fear is feeling a bit put out. The nods to diversity with a few minor characters don’t take away from the overwhelming sense that this is a story about people so privileged nothing can really touch them. There are troubling omissions (Naheed just disappears), disturbing details that are oddly glossed over, and some developments that simply don’t make a lot of sense.It’s totally understandable that an established British novelist would want to write something that serves as a response to the current political moment. But Middle England is a largely toothless satire that offers neither an interesting perspective on society nor particularly engaging characters. As a state-of-the-nation novel, it also has the misfortune to have been published within a few months of Sam Byers’ vastly superior and much more vicious Perfidious Albion, which I would certainly recommend over this.(Weird coincidence: this is the second book I’ve read this year in which a meet-cute takes place at a speed awareness course, the first being Blake Morrison’s The Executor.)I received an advance review copy of Middle England from the publisher through NetGalley.TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
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  • Anni
    January 1, 1970
    Jonathan Coe has been one of our foremost British exponents of the ‘state of the nation’ genre, with a series of novels following a group of friends throughout their formative years, starting from their schooldays in 2001 with The Rotters Club. His current novel covers eight years from 2010 and includes many memorable news references:- Gordon Brown’s faux pas about the ‘bigoted’ woman, Ed Miliband’s bacon sandwich, the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, and his main topic here - the political fault Jonathan Coe has been one of our foremost British exponents of the ‘state of the nation’ genre, with a series of novels following a group of friends throughout their formative years, starting from their schooldays in 2001 with The Rotters Club. His current novel covers eight years from 2010 and includes many memorable news references:- Gordon Brown’s faux pas about the ‘bigoted’ woman, Ed Miliband’s bacon sandwich, the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, and his main topic here - the political fault lines leading to the earthquake of Brexit.Coe’s comedy-of-manners style is polished and very readable but his satirical approach is disappointingly marred in this instance by his own blatantly biased stance. The sympathetic characters are all Remainers and the Brexiteers are depicted as 'deplorables' – with one character in particular coming across as such a villainous caricature as to be laughable rather than despicable. Unfortunately, this level of comedy is just about the only humour in the novel. (apart from a farcical episode in a wardrobe). The black and white stereotyping results in many characters being mere mouthpieces for the views of a cosy metropolitan elite of writers, academics and left-wing journalists who all toe the line of Guardianista political dogma.I think a more balanced portrayal of the national mood outside this middle class bubble would have made the social satire a lot sharper - and more honest, too. Sadly, Coe seems to have misread this mood just as much as those Remainers who were stunned by the Referendum result.Thanks to the publisher for the ARC via Netgalley
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  • Bettie☯
    January 1, 1970
    Penguin Books (UK)Description: Set in the Midlands and London over the last eight years, Jonathan Coe follows a brilliantly vivid cast of characters through a time of immense change and disruption in Britain. There are the early married years of Sophie and Ian who disagree about the future of Britain and, possibly, the future of their relationship; Sophie's grandfather whose final act is to send a postal vote for the European referendum; Doug, the political commentator, whose young daughter desp Penguin Books (UK)Description: Set in the Midlands and London over the last eight years, Jonathan Coe follows a brilliantly vivid cast of characters through a time of immense change and disruption in Britain. There are the early married years of Sophie and Ian who disagree about the future of Britain and, possibly, the future of their relationship; Sophie's grandfather whose final act is to send a postal vote for the European referendum; Doug, the political commentator, whose young daughter despairs of his lack of political nous and Doug's Remaining Tory politician partner who is savaged by the crazed trolls of Twitter. And within all these lives is the story of England itself: a story of nostalgia and irony; of friendship and rage, humour and intense bewilderment.As acutely alert to the absurdity of the political classes as he is compassionate about those who have been left behind, this is a novel Jonathan Coe was born to write.Opening: April 2010. The funeral was over. The reception was starting to fizzle out. Benjamin decided it was time to go. Satire without the element of fun makes for a depressing read, especially if the reader is a brexiteer. This is a fleshed-out blog/diary of contemporary British politics, and the comedy thief (hattip Jasper Fforde!) who infiltrated Hardy's potboilers has also been through these pages with a fine toothed comb. Current events with fictional families is Coe's oeuvre.The knock-on depression is that there is no Mueller-esque inquiry planned. No-one is looking into Britain's missing monies or those that stand to make millions on completion of a brexit deal, and there is not one politician today that has that combination of fitness, fairness and humility to say, once and for all that downsizing into exclusitory fascism based on the sickness and deceit of nostalgia is not a bright thing to do.Whilst we wait for Queen Saga to achieve her global majority our faith should be placed in Carole Cadwalladr and the fantastic new Dr Who.Also - please have a moment of quietude for Jo Cox in that chapter, to reflect upon where your entitled desires and lies are leading you, Brittania.2* Expo3* Middle England
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  • Marina
    January 1, 1970
    There are only a few books which I’ve read more than once. Pride and Prejudice is one of them; Brave New World another. And in this rare group you’ll also find Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! Sadly, his latest book, Middle England, will not be joining my fiction hall of fame. It seems Coe was asked to write a book about Brexit and that’s what he did. He resurrected his characters from The Rotters Club (another great novel) and put them into Britain’s turbulent 21st C political landscape. And yet There are only a few books which I’ve read more than once. Pride and Prejudice is one of them; Brave New World another. And in this rare group you’ll also find Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! Sadly, his latest book, Middle England, will not be joining my fiction hall of fame. It seems Coe was asked to write a book about Brexit and that’s what he did. He resurrected his characters from The Rotters Club (another great novel) and put them into Britain’s turbulent 21st C political landscape. And yet … those characters who were so engaging in The Rotters Club, seem so dull in Middle England. Because here’s the thing…Brexit is boring. Yes, it’s important. Yes, I have a viewpoint – I’ve even taken to the streets to express it, and yet I find it as dull as dishwater. In Middle England, Benjamin had written a book, which he asked his friends to critique and one of them advises him to ‘ get rid of some of the political, historical stuff’(well, actually, all of it.) But if you took away Coe’s political stuff, there’d be little left. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Doug’s chats with the Tory spin doctor, the rivalry between the children’s entertainers and Colin’s selective memories of Midlands manufacturing. But without the Brexit timeline, there was little narrative to keep it going. I’m sorry for the low ratings, because I really am a Jonathan Coe fan. It’s just on this occasion, he lacked the necessary biro. ( And if anyone doesn’t get that joke, read What a Carve Up!) Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC.
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 rounded upI came to Middle England not realising it was part of a series, and this probably impacted slightly on my enjoyment of it. However it is still an enjoyable story chronicling a period of great change in modern Britain.The story covers the period between April 2010 and September 2018, and we (well, the characters) relive many of the major events throughout this period - the Coalition government, the London riots, the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, Jo Cox's murder, the Referendum, and 3.5 rounded upI came to Middle England not realising it was part of a series, and this probably impacted slightly on my enjoyment of it. However it is still an enjoyable story chronicling a period of great change in modern Britain.The story covers the period between April 2010 and September 2018, and we (well, the characters) relive many of the major events throughout this period - the Coalition government, the London riots, the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, Jo Cox's murder, the Referendum, and more. At times this feels like a bit of a checklist of shoehorning events into a narrative, but I did enjoy the ride and most of these added something to the story. As I said, for readers familiar with the Trotters there may be more to enjoy here, but for readers new to the family the narrative is still engaging. Coe has some interesting observations to make about the British psyche, and this has been one of the most enjoyable "state of the nation" books I've read about Brexit/contemporary Britain. Recommended!Thank you Netgalley and Penguin Books (UK) for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.
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  • SueLucie
    January 1, 1970
    Since I’ve spent the last four years as a welcomed guest in the Netherlands, this distillation of the major events of the decade in the UK (just England really as the title suggests) came along at just the right time for me and I would guess many others of us living across the channel, looking on aghast at the chaos at home and considering our future. Interesting that the upbeat ending should lean so heavily towards Europe. I have enjoyed Jonathan Coe’s writing over the years, but haven’t read ‘ Since I’ve spent the last four years as a welcomed guest in the Netherlands, this distillation of the major events of the decade in the UK (just England really as the title suggests) came along at just the right time for me and I would guess many others of us living across the channel, looking on aghast at the chaos at home and considering our future. Interesting that the upbeat ending should lean so heavily towards Europe. I have enjoyed Jonathan Coe’s writing over the years, but haven’t read ‘The Rotters’ Club’ or its sequel. I realise now that the characters I most engaged with here are integral to those two books. Yet ‘Middle England’ is perfectly successful as a stand-alone novel - there are brief mentions of past events but none of the laboured rehashing often seen in sequels. I was particularly swept up in two of the relationships (Ben/Jennifer, Sophie/Ian), written with a sympathetic and delicate touch, but I have one major niggle about the characters. Where did the gorgeous and doughty Naheed go? I would have liked her to continue to feature large as the story unfolded. High calibre writing (as you’d expect from Coe), but not a lot of laughs (and I’d come to expect more of those from him). The situation is too real and raw to be funny, certainly not yet.With thanks to Penguin/Viking via NetGalley for the opportunity to read an ARC.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    In 2015 I very much enjoyed Number 11, Coe’s state-of-the-nation novel about wealth, celebrity and suspicion in contemporary England. Middle England uses roughly the same format, of multiple linked characters and story lines, and seems to makes many of the same points, too. However, by embedding his book so completely in 2011–18 history, he limits its fictional possibilities. I often wonder how the history books will look back on recent events (Brexit, Trump), but revisiting them in fiction feel In 2015 I very much enjoyed Number 11, Coe’s state-of-the-nation novel about wealth, celebrity and suspicion in contemporary England. Middle England uses roughly the same format, of multiple linked characters and story lines, and seems to makes many of the same points, too. However, by embedding his book so completely in 2011–18 history, he limits its fictional possibilities. I often wonder how the history books will look back on recent events (Brexit, Trump), but revisiting them in fiction feels depressing and pointless – I was there, I remember all this stuff, I don’t need reminding of how we got here. The book is far too long and there were no characters I immediately latched onto. I read 22 pages and skimmed up to p. 140. The scene I liked best was when Sophie’s friend chairs a discussion between an English novelist and a French one and the Englishman characterizes his country as moderate, pragmatic, tolerant, and unlikely to give in to extremes. (Famous last words from October 2010.) I also liked the use of the Shirley Collins folk song “Adieu to Old England.”
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  • Sid Nuncius
    January 1, 1970
    I have enjoyed much of Jonathan Coe’s previous work and he writes as well as ever here, but overall I struggled with Middle England.Having dealt with wealth, poverty and finance in modern Britain in Number 11, Coe’s latest state-of-the-nation novel takes us through the politics of the last eight years from the 2010 General Election to the political earthquakes in 2016 and beyond. As ever, he writes beautifully and readably and creates convincing, if slightly exaggerated, characters. The trouble I have enjoyed much of Jonathan Coe’s previous work and he writes as well as ever here, but overall I struggled with Middle England.Having dealt with wealth, poverty and finance in modern Britain in Number 11, Coe’s latest state-of-the-nation novel takes us through the politics of the last eight years from the 2010 General Election to the political earthquakes in 2016 and beyond. As ever, he writes beautifully and readably and creates convincing, if slightly exaggerated, characters. The trouble is that there’s precious little in the way of the wit and satire which have made his previous books readable and enjoyable. Also there is such a wealth of detail both in the period settings and his characters’ lives that I began to get very bogged down and found myself skimming – something I’ve never done before with a Jonathan Coe novel.All this meant that, although I am in sympathy with Coe’s point of view, I didn’t find much new insight, satire or enjoyment here and for me it became a rather dismal litany of all that has been wrong with British politics (with references to the US as well) in the last decade or so. Plainly, others have enjoyed Middle England very much but for me, while it’s certainly not terrible, it was a disappointment.(My thanks to Penguin Books for an ARC via NetGalley.)
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  • Richard
    January 1, 1970
    Jonathan Cole is angry about how Britain has changed, overall since 1979 but specifically in the last 8 years for this novel. He is angry about the rise in anger, hatred and division that has increased in Britain. Reviving characters first seen in The Rotters Club he intertwines actual events with fictional ones to take their story right to the present day. It is a funny thought provoking and entertaining read; though maybe less so if you voted leave.
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  • Mircalla64
    January 1, 1970
    "e allora il PD?" english versionCoe riprende i protagonisti di "La banda dei brocchi" e di "Circolo chiuso" per raccontare il periodo della Brexit e i retroscena che solo gli inglesi conoscono, il procedimento è quello a cui ci ha già abituati nei precedenti libri su Margaret Thatcher e su Tony Blair, parte dai personaggi per raccontare l'impatto sulle loro vite della sciagurata politica inglese, salvo poi mostrare deliziosi siparietti in cui ci spiega bene come sia potuto accadere che cose com "e allora il PD?" english versionCoe riprende i protagonisti di "La banda dei brocchi" e di "Circolo chiuso" per raccontare il periodo della Brexit e i retroscena che solo gli inglesi conoscono, il procedimento è quello a cui ci ha già abituati nei precedenti libri su Margaret Thatcher e su Tony Blair, parte dai personaggi per raccontare l'impatto sulle loro vite della sciagurata politica inglese, salvo poi mostrare deliziosi siparietti in cui ci spiega bene come sia potuto accadere che cose come l'impoverimento progressivo della classe media o le balle sull'Iraq abbiano trovato terreno fertile in Inghilterra tramite piccoli aggiustamenti e manovre poco chiare, per la maggior parte si tratta di idioti con troppo potere, per usare le sagge parole di Zadie Smith, e questi che ne hanno a sufficienza per uccidere un intero paese si mettono qui di buona lena a fare in modo di indebolire anche l'Unione Europea, una sorta di "e allora il PD?" gigantesco che spiega come sia potuto accadere che adesso l'Inghilterra si trovi fuori dall'Europa senza che nessuno si sia ancora preso la responsabilità di questa scelta...
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  • Max Nemtsov
    January 1, 1970
    прекрасный уютный Коу для любителей Гэлзуорти и вот этих вот долгих семейных саг. а по повестке дня больше всего напоминает, конечно же, "Краткую историю тракторов по-украински" Марины Левицкой (это вообще была ее тема, мультипультикультурализм). впрочем, плотность культурных отсылок у Коу не в пример выше, так что эта небольшая романная соната (ибо по структуре это она и есть) вполне может читаться не только как продолжение более ранней дилогии, но и как головоломка (Толкина-то там каждый дурак прекрасный уютный Коу для любителей Гэлзуорти и вот этих вот долгих семейных саг. а по повестке дня больше всего напоминает, конечно же, "Краткую историю тракторов по-украински" Марины Левицкой (это вообще была ее тема, мультипультикультурализм). впрочем, плотность культурных отсылок у Коу не в пример выше, так что эта небольшая романная соната (ибо по структуре это она и есть) вполне может читаться не только как продолжение более ранней дилогии, но и как головоломка (Толкина-то там каждый дурак найдет, а вот "Да, министр", я думаю - нет). в общем, читателю будет чем насладиться.
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  • Siobhan
    January 1, 1970
    Middle England is Jonathan Coe's new novel, a satirical and meandering look at the past eight years. It follows a cast of characters around Birmingham and London predominantly, looking at their interconnected lives and how they're affected by politics, Brexit, and British society. Around this, there is also a lot about family, relationships, and finding and changing what you want to do in life.Many of the characters have already appeared in Coe's earlier books The Rotters' Club and The Closed Ci Middle England is Jonathan Coe's new novel, a satirical and meandering look at the past eight years. It follows a cast of characters around Birmingham and London predominantly, looking at their interconnected lives and how they're affected by politics, Brexit, and British society. Around this, there is also a lot about family, relationships, and finding and changing what you want to do in life.Many of the characters have already appeared in Coe's earlier books The Rotters' Club and The Closed Circle, but there is no need to have read either to read this one (I didn't realise until the closing pages it might be a sequel). The way it is weaved around the events of the past eight years is sometimes great (it is amusing to see how all the characters react to the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, and their reactions are very real) and sometimes less so (Coe places so much focus on Brexit that it can't help but be depressing, for starters). He seems to aim to depict a confused Britain, though being so timely (it runs up to 2018) does make it quite stressful.Coe brings together a cast of characters, balancing their stories well, in a novel that seems aimed at the people it is often gently mocking: the left wing middle class. At times a strange mix between funny escapism and a harsh reminder of how recent years have unfolded, this is a British satirical novel for the present day.
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    A new book by Jonathan Coe is like greeting an old friend. His books have the capacity to move me like few others. Middle England is his Brexit novel but is so much more than that. It examines the conditions that led up to it, taking in ‘political correctness gone mad’, ‘people like you', and why we never saw it coming.Some of the characters return from The Rotters Club, and The Closed Circle although this reads as a stand alone novel perfectly. Coe shows us how we were encouraged to be dissatis A new book by Jonathan Coe is like greeting an old friend. His books have the capacity to move me like few others. Middle England is his Brexit novel but is so much more than that. It examines the conditions that led up to it, taking in ‘political correctness gone mad’, ‘people like you', and why we never saw it coming.Some of the characters return from The Rotters Club, and The Closed Circle although this reads as a stand alone novel perfectly. Coe shows us how we were encouraged to be dissatisfied with immigration and multiculturalism. As in the British Empire , we are being divided and ruled. Ben Trotter unexpectedly has a book published. A newspaper profile makes it look as if it only happened because of tenuous connections to ‘elites and experts.’ Sophie, a lecturer, is accused of transphobia due to a teenage girl who ‘knows her rights.’ As austerity bites throughout the David Cameron Premiership, people look for someone to blame.One dialogue that runs through the novel is a series of meetings between a journalist, Doug and a communications director in the Tory Government, Nigel. At every meeting save the last one, Nigel makes out that everything is going brilliantly. After the referendum result, he admits that the country is ‘fu**ed’, and that everything is a mess.Despite this, Middle England ends on a tone of glorious hope that makes up glad we made the journey.
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  • Mandy
    January 1, 1970
    In his latest novel Coe takes the characters from The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle and subjects them to the turmoil of the Referendum and Brexit. He does this with his usual keen and observant eye, but disappointingly chooses to do so with an unrelenting series of set-pieces, which, whilst often entertaining in themselves, avoid nuance and insight and offer little to the political debate. His potentially interesting characters are not explored in any depth and none of them mature or chang In his latest novel Coe takes the characters from The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle and subjects them to the turmoil of the Referendum and Brexit. He does this with his usual keen and observant eye, but disappointingly chooses to do so with an unrelenting series of set-pieces, which, whilst often entertaining in themselves, avoid nuance and insight and offer little to the political debate. His potentially interesting characters are not explored in any depth and none of them mature or change. This becomes wearisome, as each appears to be there simply to stand for a particular point of view or outlook. Satire is never successful if it simply chronicles what’s happening in the real world, it has to bring something more to the table, and this novel unfortunately doesn’t. Set-piece after set-piece with no narrative drive and no psychology ends up being a series of occasionally funny but never involving scenarios. Coe includes every issue he can think of – racism, xenophobia, political hypocrisy, political correctness cruises, garden centres, family life, ageing and so on and so on - and casts his critical eye over them but offers no resolutions or correctives. Amusing at times, but so lacking in depth and so obvious and banal, that although I actually quite enjoyed reading the book, I was distinctly underwhelmed by it.
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  • Lisa Bywell
    January 1, 1970
    Obviously 5 stars. The man is a genius!!
  • Bridget Simpson
    January 1, 1970
    Loved it 😊
  • Alan
    January 1, 1970
    ‘Adieu to old England, adieu.’Shirley Collins’ haunting folk song bookends Jonathan Coe’s new novel, starting with a funeral and ending with the prospect of new life, covering the tumultuous period of 2010 to the present day. Is this an elegy for a lost England or a novel for our times? I admit to being perplexed by my reaction to this, so my review will undoubtedly reflect that. I so wanted to like the book more than I actually did, and whilst I have huge admiration for Coe as a writer, and whi ‘Adieu to old England, adieu.’Shirley Collins’ haunting folk song bookends Jonathan Coe’s new novel, starting with a funeral and ending with the prospect of new life, covering the tumultuous period of 2010 to the present day. Is this an elegy for a lost England or a novel for our times? I admit to being perplexed by my reaction to this, so my review will undoubtedly reflect that. I so wanted to like the book more than I actually did, and whilst I have huge admiration for Coe as a writer, and whilst there are some excellent parts of the novel, it left me frustrated at times, and at others downright irritated. Be warned, the title is a massive clue: this is such an England-centric novel the rest of the UK doesn’t get a look in. There is cursory mention in one sentence of the Scottish independence referendum, and if you are looking for anything Welsh and Irish then forget it. Middle England, or Deep England: this is a novel about country versus city, of monoculture versus multiculturalism, of older generations versus younger. And, of course, this is about Brexit - from an English point of view and in all of its bitter, argumentative, divisive forms. For me, it felt like Coe was trying too hard to make his points. Sometimes less is more, and as the metaphors and symbolism piled up I got slightly exasperated. Brexit divides the country? Check. So, relationships break down. Day of Brexit vote means an end to something? Check. So, one of the characters dies. Non white-middle-class representation in the characters? Check. Everyone has a friend or colleague from a different background. North-South divide? Check. Cue lots of moving to and fro between London and ‘the north’. And so on…However, saying all that, the book does have some laugh-out-loud comic moments (let’s just say one involves a wardrobe) and there are set-piece moments which show Coe to be a startlingly good novelist (the chapter which covers the various central characters’ reactions watching the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony is inspired writing). There is clearly an underlying sense of resentment and anger from Coe at the Brexit result and the divisions it has stirred up. The ending of the book does offer some hope for the future, yes, but at what cost? It involves most of the characters either moving cities or even moving abroad. Is that really the answer? It might be OK if you are white middle-class, but for the rest of the country? How do they/we deal with the mess? Perhaps the best image from the book is that of 2 children’s entertainers dressed as clowns having a punch up in somebody’s kitchen while discussing Brexit. Politically, that sums it all up on both sides. This is a decent book, but not – for me – a great one. Proverbial curate’s egg. Is it too soon to write a Brexit novel when the ramifications are still unfolding? Perhaps, perhaps not. I recommend the book for sure, because Coe is a genuinely good writer. 4 stars in some parts, 2 in others, so overall a 3 star from me is the best I can do.
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  • GONZA
    January 1, 1970
    I liked this book a lot, especially because there were some of the characters from the Rotter's club and it was like meeting some long forgotten friends whom you really enjoy to see again. The story was not so complicated. but as it was settled from 2010 to now, it was interesting for me to follow what precedes and came right after brexit. After the not so good last book (Numer 11), I enjoyed this new Coe a lot.Questo libro mi é piaciuto parecchio, anche perché l'ultimo di Coe (Numero 11) non mi I liked this book a lot, especially because there were some of the characters from the Rotter's club and it was like meeting some long forgotten friends whom you really enjoy to see again. The story was not so complicated. but as it was settled from 2010 to now, it was interesting for me to follow what precedes and came right after brexit. After the not so good last book (Numer 11), I enjoyed this new Coe a lot.Questo libro mi é piaciuto parecchio, anche perché l'ultimo di Coe (Numero 11) non mi era piaciuto poi tanto e inoltre in questo c'erano i vecchi personaggi del Rotter club e mi sembrava quasi di ritrovare dei vecchi amici dei quali uno si dimentica, ma che é felice di rincontrare. La storia non era poi cosí complessa, ma lo sfondo dell'Inghilterra tra il 2010 ed il 2017 rende il tutto molto piú interessante, specialmente alla luce della Brexit. Un piacevole Coe dei vecchi tempi.
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  • Latkins
    January 1, 1970
    After reading this excellent novel, I feel stupid for never having read a book by Jonathan Coe before. I’ve heard a lot about him, but not got round to reading him until now. This book is an absolute joy – it follows several characters through the past ten years or so in Britain, as Brexit begins to bite and create divisions in families and relationships. It’s also very funny, witty and perceptive about the state of the country today. It features characters from earlier novels The Rotters’ Club After reading this excellent novel, I feel stupid for never having read a book by Jonathan Coe before. I’ve heard a lot about him, but not got round to reading him until now. This book is an absolute joy – it follows several characters through the past ten years or so in Britain, as Brexit begins to bite and create divisions in families and relationships. It’s also very funny, witty and perceptive about the state of the country today. It features characters from earlier novels The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle, but it’s not necessary to have read these before reading this one (I haven’t read them yet – but plan to do so soon). All in all, a winner!
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  • Kevin
    January 1, 1970
    Yikes! What timing. As I read this book Theresa May's Cabinet was falling apart over the proposed Brexit deal. Old wounds seem to have resurfaced. Only a few days ago I was lectured on the failure of the deal by a pair of Leave supporters who gracefully told me that it was "okay" for me to have voted Remain and the memories of that bitter summer rushed back. Both campaigns seemed contemptuous of the other and as the referendum drew closer their sanctimonious tone seemed to creep ever more into t Yikes! What timing. As I read this book Theresa May's Cabinet was falling apart over the proposed Brexit deal. Old wounds seem to have resurfaced. Only a few days ago I was lectured on the failure of the deal by a pair of Leave supporters who gracefully told me that it was "okay" for me to have voted Remain and the memories of that bitter summer rushed back. Both campaigns seemed contemptuous of the other and as the referendum drew closer their sanctimonious tone seemed to creep ever more into the world around us. Only today I see that the news is filled with reports on the rise of anti-depressant prescriptions after the vote - something I believe would've happened whatever the result. A book about Brexit? Surely that can only stir the pot moreThankfully, no. In "Middle England" Jonathan Coe manages to take us back even further. To a time when we talked of recession and austerity. Coe goes further than most, acknowledging that Brexit wasn't just a summer campaign that divided the country. He goes back to earlier fractures that led to the vast rift. He even nods back to the 70s to show the path was forming even then. He charts how we sleepwalked into the Brexit referendum, with society slowly drifting away from the oddly polite middle-ground that the British do so well. As island people, we are good at looking inwards, and this book demonstrates how we did it so well our fellow Brits became even more foreign than the European community we were voting on.At times this book made me laugh out loud. A release of the tension that has resurfaced. The characters are natural and easy to relate to. They are, in the whole, moderates - people you may disagree with, but only in the form of a chat over a drink in the pub. Coe takes an impressively balanced and fair view of his characters in that regard, offering a reasonable spread of views and extremes and acknowledging the backgrounds behind them all. The cast is fairly dull and normal in that regard, and that makes the story enjoyable.Much as this is pitched as a Brexit novel it does offer far more than that. It is really a story about British people. About their relationships with each other. Brexit simply frames the growing divide that we've witnessed this century. It is amusing and poignant. It offers some hope that the scars of 2016 will heal, even if they are being torn open once more just now. Post-Brexit the book is far more hurried, with many big leaps in the timeline to move things forward, and while it loses some of the investment I had built up in the characters it highlights how far things have moved on since the vote.If I'm honest, I think there are a lot of people not ready for this book yet. There are people I would share it with, and others who I know would react badly to it. This country still has a long way to go with Brexit and for some, it's just too soon, but it's a great book, and when things stabilise a bit more I'll have even more people to recommend it to.
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  • Kate Vane
    January 1, 1970
    I’ve had mixed responses to Jonathan Coe novels over the years. I loved The Rotters’ Club and What a Carve Up!, I thought The Closed Circle (follow up to The Rotters’ Club) and House of Sleep were okay, and I’ve started one or two others that I couldn’t get through at all.Middle England picks up the story of the protagonists of The Rotters’ Club in 2010 and follows their stories up to and after the Brexit referendum. It doesn’t have a conventional narrative arc, it’s more a series of vignettes s I’ve had mixed responses to Jonathan Coe novels over the years. I loved The Rotters’ Club and What a Carve Up!, I thought The Closed Circle (follow up to The Rotters’ Club) and House of Sleep were okay, and I’ve started one or two others that I couldn’t get through at all.Middle England picks up the story of the protagonists of The Rotters’ Club in 2010 and follows their stories up to and after the Brexit referendum. It doesn’t have a conventional narrative arc, it’s more a series of vignettes showing how Benjamin, Doug and co react to current events and to changes in their personal lives. It’s a bit like a hearing a series of anecdotes about old friends, moderately entertaining if you know them (though I’m not sure you’d be interested if you don’t).While What a Carve Up! took apart Tory rule with savagery and humour and heart, I found this examination of Brexit terribly condescending. If you’ve been following politics at all in recent years, I don’t think you’ll learn or experience anything new. If you’re not interested in politics, why would you read it at all?The political points made in the novel, such as they are, are so crass and obvious that they make phone-ins seem erudite. Benjamin’s father and pretty much everyone of their generation is a cross between Victor Meldrew and Katie Hopkins, while it seems the true pain of Brexit for the protagonists is that they have to listen to dreadful people’s views over dinner.I know that people actually do say the things that you think are only clichés (who hasn’t sat through an awkward family Christmas or a wedding trying to ward off comments about how ‘the neighbourhood has gone downhill since they moved in’, or ‘my best friend’s cousin’s brother is getting a fortune in disability and he plays golf three times a week’) but in a novel don’t we want something a bit more challenging? Something that tries to understand the lives and thoughts of people who disagree with us? Something to make us consider the bigger forces that led us to this point?If Coe is on the side of progressives, why does he make all the characters so unsympathetic and out of touch? Sophie, Benjamin’s niece, doesn’t think racism is a thing in one chapter, then in the next thinks an Asian woman is ‘brave’ because she runs a class for speeding drivers(?!). Sophie’s beginning a career in higher education but instead of struggling to pay the rent on precarious short-term contracts, she drifts airily between teaching in Birmingham, research at the British Library and lucrative private lecture gigs. The people who are really suffering are at the periphery of the story. Doug’s privileged daughter, who invites herself to a riot on a kind of poverty safari, is at least self-aware.I don’t think you can call it satire if it doesn’t make you laugh, or give you some insight, or motivate you to change. This just made me sad.*I received a copy of Middle England from the publisher via Netgalley.Read more of my reviews at https://katevane.com/blog/
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  • Katy Noyes
    January 1, 1970
    Highly absorbing 'political Gogglebox', a cross-sectional comic look at modern Britain.I didn't think I would like this so much, but listening to this and reliving the past decade with the characters, the Olympics, elections, riots, Brexit, I found myself thinking back over events as well as enjoying seeing said events through various lenses and viewpoints.An eclectic cast of characters, young and old, parents and children, Londoners and Midlanders, live through the most recent decade in England Highly absorbing 'political Gogglebox', a cross-sectional comic look at modern Britain.I didn't think I would like this so much, but listening to this and reliving the past decade with the characters, the Olympics, elections, riots, Brexit, I found myself thinking back over events as well as enjoying seeing said events through various lenses and viewpoints.An eclectic cast of characters, young and old, parents and children, Londoners and Midlanders, live through the most recent decade in England, offering us social commentary on a Gogglebox scale, with multiple viewpoints on key events as they live their own lives.Characters fall in love, marry, split, suffer losses, study, work... and react to the news that readers will all recall, but with varying reactions. It all feels quite nostalgic in a way, sections like the scenes as everyone watches the Olympic opening ceremony had me feeling patriotic and remembering the time. It felt strange reliving elections, and blackly humorous as we see relationship struggle to survive the Brexit vote. A wonderful listen, the one voice manages a range of ages, genders and accents with ease, I completely forgot I was listening to one narrator and had no issue knowing who was 'speaking'. Even the running length didn't feel at all a hindrance, it sped by as I settled in to reliving my last decade with familiar characters going through it with me.A great choice from Audible, it felt like I was looking through a lens at the lives presented. Dark humour, some highly realistic characters representing various walks of life, all the way up to the top of the political life. Highly recommended, whatever your political persuasion. May not go down as well overseas with people less familiar with recent British social and political history.With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.
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  • Antonio Parrilla
    January 1, 1970
    “Middle England” di Jonathan Coe.In una sola parola: capolavoro. Come I grandi classici, Coe usa la sua scrittura per catturare lo spirito del momento e restituire al lettore un quadro quanto più esatto possibile della Gran Bretagna della Brexit. Un po’ spiazzante nella parte iniziale, quando il lettore non ha ancora capito che i protagonisti del romanzo altro non sono, in realtà, che gli spettatori di uno show, a suo modo tragico, le cui premesse non avevano colto in tempo, il libro dispiega tu “Middle England” di Jonathan Coe.In una sola parola: capolavoro. Come I grandi classici, Coe usa la sua scrittura per catturare lo spirito del momento e restituire al lettore un quadro quanto più esatto possibile della Gran Bretagna della Brexit. Un po’ spiazzante nella parte iniziale, quando il lettore non ha ancora capito che i protagonisti del romanzo altro non sono, in realtà, che gli spettatori di uno show, a suo modo tragico, le cui premesse non avevano colto in tempo, il libro dispiega tutta la sua potenza soprattutto nella seconda parte, non a caso intitolata “Middle England”. È un romanzo che è anche un’autocritica da parte di quella classe intellettuale progressista (Coe ne fa indubbiamente parte) che in Italia, in tono dispregiativo, viene definita in tono spregiativo come “comunisti col Rolex”, oppure “buonisti”, o anche peggio. Persone di cultura, spesso arrivate a potersi permettere una vita agiata grazie ai sacrifici loro o dei loro genitori, grazie all’impegno e al talento, persone che per decenni sono state il traino della società in cui hanno vissuto, e che non hanno percepito come il loro progresso li stesse in realtà allontanando dal sentire della gente comune.In giro c’è sicuramente gente con capacità affabulatorie molto migliori di quelle di Coe: sono davvero rari, però, coloro capaci di essere così lucidi nel cogliere la realtà e così onesti da raccontarla come lui.Per me, su Goodreads, la valutazione è stata di 5 stelle piene.
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  • Kate Ashton
    January 1, 1970
    Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t get this. I’m not really sure what the aim of this book is. It seems to be a kind of state-of-the-British-nation account (from around 2010 to 2016) as viewed through the eyes of a group of generally somewhat privileged and, for me, unappealing characters, who seem to me to be more caricatures than real multidimensional people in the mostly fairly superficial portrayal. I have no issue with flawed people, but I need to be given at least something that makes me Maybe it’s just me, but I just don’t get this. I’m not really sure what the aim of this book is. It seems to be a kind of state-of-the-British-nation account (from around 2010 to 2016) as viewed through the eyes of a group of generally somewhat privileged and, for me, unappealing characters, who seem to me to be more caricatures than real multidimensional people in the mostly fairly superficial portrayal. I have no issue with flawed people, but I need to be given at least something that makes me like them or at least feel some empathy, but I’m afraid these characters left me cold. Unfortunately, the narrative lacks the humour of someone like Bill Bryson and I just can’t help thinking why anyone – at least an adult Brit who has lived through this era - would want to rehash all the (depressing) old news and conversations through characters that are not at all interesting. It’s like suffering through a gathering of people you hardly know – possibly even take an instant dislike to - who are repeating same old same old and you just can’t wait for the moment to arrive when you can leave with at least a modicum of politeness.I understand that this book forms a series, so that some readers may have become familiar with the characters in previous books and developed a kind of relationship with them, and indeed they may previously have been presented in such a way as engender that much-needed empathy in we readers. I came to this book ‘cold’ without that advantage, so may sound rather harsh in my judgement to those who have already found an appeal in the characters and/or style. But no, I just don't get it.
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  • Ryan Williams
    January 1, 1970
    This is the first British novel about the Brexit vote and more besides. Unlike the Brexit vote, this is nuanced, careful, and doesn't appeal to lazy stereotypes. It features the same characters that we first met in The Rotters' Club, and again in The Closed Circle. It seems Coe finally found a way into the novel he had long wanted to write by returning to those characters. As John Updike said of Rabbit Angstrom, the characters are Coe's window on the world around him, and capture the messy way h This is the first British novel about the Brexit vote and more besides. Unlike the Brexit vote, this is nuanced, careful, and doesn't appeal to lazy stereotypes. It features the same characters that we first met in The Rotters' Club, and again in The Closed Circle. It seems Coe finally found a way into the novel he had long wanted to write by returning to those characters. As John Updike said of Rabbit Angstrom, the characters are Coe's window on the world around him, and capture the messy way history blunders its way through our lives. Sadly it lacks what you might call the animal spirits of his earlier work. The House of Sleep, The Rotters' Club and his masterpiece What a Carve Up! are all far funnier -and wiser for it.
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  • Greville Waterman
    January 1, 1970
    It is a long time since I have read anything by this author and that is something I intend to rectify very shortly. He reintroduces characters from previous novels to provide an overview of the state of our nation and how it has developed or even declined over the past near decade.There is humour and pathos and strong characterisation and also a sense of anger and despair at how things have transpired.If you want to rediscover or learn about some of the key episodes in our recent history and be It is a long time since I have read anything by this author and that is something I intend to rectify very shortly. He reintroduces characters from previous novels to provide an overview of the state of our nation and how it has developed or even declined over the past near decade.There is humour and pathos and strong characterisation and also a sense of anger and despair at how things have transpired.If you want to rediscover or learn about some of the key episodes in our recent history and be entertained at the same time this is certainly the book for you.Highly recommended.
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  • Lenore
    January 1, 1970
    I have not read any of Jonathan Coe's previous novels. This book certainly captures the political and social climate of last decade and how it has impacts on the characters. Lots of different characters were brought to life in this book. telling their individual stories. All the ups and downs of human life can be found here. Most importantly for me the author demonstrated how social expectations are shaped by the wider world. Lots of issues raised here from political correctness to the trials an I have not read any of Jonathan Coe's previous novels. This book certainly captures the political and social climate of last decade and how it has impacts on the characters. Lots of different characters were brought to life in this book. telling their individual stories. All the ups and downs of human life can be found here. Most importantly for me the author demonstrated how social expectations are shaped by the wider world. Lots of issues raised here from political correctness to the trials and tribulations of brexit. Although I enjoyed the book I felt it was rather long and some of the characters didn't seem to fit the story particularly well.... However, I did think it was a great attempt to highlight the ridiculousness of where society has landed up. Worth reading!
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  • Ben Crisp
    January 1, 1970
    Haven’t read anything that so perfectly encapsulates what is currently going on in this country, and how we got there. It’s the kind of book that will be studied in fifty years time when students try to understand Brexit and the current depressing mayhem this country finds itself in. The most important book you could read this year, I urge everyone to do it.
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