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The Crack Magazine

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Book of the Month - Bournville by Jonathan Coe

Jonathan Coe is one of the most humane authors writing in the UK today. He always gives his characters due weight. His latest novel – which charts the fortunes of an extended family, and sundry neighbours, over an extended period – sees him taking several “ordinary” lives and making them feel extraordinary (or, to put it another way: every one of these characters is the hero in their own story). After a brief prologue in the present day, the narrative switches to 1945 (around VE Day) in Bournville – the placid suburb of Birmingham that was set up by the Quaker Cadbury family for its employees back in the 19th century. Living there is eleven-year-old Mary, and we follow her story down through the years until she reaches her eighties and the Covid pandemic. Each chapter is built around a significant date – from the aforementioned VD Day, through to the Queen’s Coronation, the England vs Germany World Cup Final, the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, the death of Diana Spencer, and so on – with Coe deftly weaving a decades’ spanning family saga around these era defining events. It’s a device that plays on the notion that while these headline grabbing episodes may have a certain amount of significance, the real drama of life is to be found within a nation’s citizens. Affectionate, full of good humour, and often moving, this is Coe doing what he does best. (And fans of his will coo over the subtle nods to some of his previous work.) RM

Published by Viking

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