30 April, 2012

Fiction In Summary - Jonathan Coe - What A Carve Up!


'What A Carve Up!', Coe's 1994 masterpiece, is loosely indebted to the 1961 film of the same name. It's a great heaving, stretching novel which starts at WWII and continues through Thatcherism towards the Gulf War. It says something about the novel as an art form, whilst becoming the novel to break the boring stretch of failed political novels of the 80s. Whilst inherently a massively political novel, Coe focuses on one family, their biographer and the effects that this small minority can hold for the entire nation.

The book's structure is as postmodern as they come, and manages to add a lot more to the story of the Winshaw family than a straight-forward third-person narrative could. Following the biographer Michael through his personal, fatherless problems, we also are introduced to every member of one generation of the Winshaw family in a variety of timezones, before we head towards the book's dazzling denouement in the classic narrative form.

The book becomes sensational, illogical and satirical in its final pages, but that's Coe's point. The ending of the novel, and the closure for the Winshaw family says something interesting about Thatcherism, and the effects of such a small minority of people holding such a great power over healthcare, the media, arts, journalism, farming... Sound familiar? I can't see this book becoming irrelevant any time soon.

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