A truly bizarre and inventive novel from the mid-1990s by the British writer Jonathan Coe. I’ve read one of his later novels later and really enjoyed it and IT oddly felt like a first novel, while this novel, earlier feels more mature in some ways. We meet Michael Owen, failed novelist (well, successful, but now fading) who has been commissioned by a spinster aunt of a rich land-owning British family to write a definitive biography of the family. The Winshaws are a corrupt and awful bunch, but they’re spread out enough, watered down enough, and fading enough to where their potency is not what it once was, but still has that old world bite.
We begin the novel with a scene of violence in which a commoner is found dead in their house in the late 1960s. That becomes a catalyst for this novel, which circulates out from this event. The most of the novel takes place in a couple of different competing narratives. We get the story of Michael Owen as failed novelist, with crumbling marriages, and a writing career dwindling as he makes his way through the 1980s finally ending up with the commission. Intermixed with these chapters are narratives following individual members of the Winshaw family. We close with two selections of the final book itself.
It’s a darkly funny send up of the 1980s from the 1990s.