31 thoughts on “Middle England – Jonathan Coe

  1. Pages 3 to 14

    Style, immaculate, and with a stylish long paragraph here and there to give it umph! All I remember of Coe. The characters building believably.
    We start at a funeral where talk is of Gordon Brown calling a lady voter ‘bigoted’, speaking this on a secret microphone he forgot he was wearing for TV. Seems apt I received my first Bluetooth electronic thingie today when I also decided to start yesterday evening reading this book slowly. And Boris and Jeremy H had their last Brexit leadership hustings happened also.

    See this earlier review that concerned Brexit and the condition of our Middle England: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/01/30/this-wounded-island-j-w-bohm/

  2. —> Page 22

    “…’People are getting angry, really angry,’ even if they could not have explained why, or with whom.”

    And a most moving scene alongside a folk song on an iPod dock…

    “Adieu to old England, adieu”

  3. Pages 23 – 32
    October 2010

    “‘Fictionalising Life; Living in Fiction’. What does it mean?”

    The characters widen and deepen, in the world of literary cosmopolitanism but amid the tensions of what one can say or cannot say, and even the POTUS recently in real-time used the expression mentioned here (such as ‘Go back to where you come from!’), mentioned here as a then 2010 pent-up, mainly unspoken, but sometimes spoken, expression in our Middle England, our Middle Earth. And UKIP is also mentioned in this section of this our ‘Fiction’ in question, as written by Coe.

    And talking about kippers, Boris waved a pre-packed one to an audience on our different Isle of Man only a few days ago in real-time! He wrongly blamed the EU, but he still made his populist point!

  4. —> Page 50

    “…reading out some of the jokes from the crackers, but they felt lumpen, with all the sparkle of random quotations from one of the gloomier Ingmar Bergman films.”

    As we progress through 2010, we learn more of the Rose Garden with Cameron and Clegg, then a fine witty portrait of a seminar for those whom had been caught speeding on English roads, romantic touches, and a family Christmas in 2010 where we speculate on how in the good old days (1970s?) we all cohered nicely around the telly watching the same programme. (My own good old days are arguably the 1950s!)
    Here, today, in my own real time of 2019, a British flagged ship has been abducted by the Iranians, thus threatening a world war, and Boris is due to become our PM next Wednesday….

  5. —> Page 68

    “…a plan to create a pan-European state…”

    We’re in January 2011, now. A particular loco genius-loci of a garden centre, one with a performance area. England a world of “harmless cranks.” (And argumentative clowns!) Yet, they are far from harmless in 2019, I guess! Anyway with a proposed book of photographs — (compare and contrast a similar book I linked to at the beginning of this review, a book of photographs by Böhm, with my thread about it continued here, as linked by the Injuries of Time and Brexit ones) — we have the prophecy of such harmlessness turning into a more insidious form of perceived supremacy. Kalergi! Well, meanwhile we continue have the ‘nice’ characters building nicely, including a rather prudish withdrawing at any sign of sex: “and they moved on to other things.”

    Today, in real time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer resigned on the Marr Sunday Show, but not actually resigning till next Wednesday! The Iranian crisis continues. Was the Foreign Secretary asleep at the wheel while fighting the Tory leadership battle with Boris? Anything but the Marxist Labour Party getting their hands on the levers of power, I think someone else said.

  6. —> Page 84

    We learn that Pushkin and Dumas are black European writers, how to play the number plate game, of the death of Amy Winehouse, and about the riots of 2011.
    Bereavement and rhubarb crumble, too.
    Today, in 2019, I deem politics to be at their weirdest ever! But do we always tend to think that chaos accretes in geometric progression rather than what it really does: i.e. simply waxing and waning?

  7. —> Page 93

    Powell’s rivers of bloods spotted rising.

    Signs of the future wall between us already being built in 2011…

    “Why a sweet shop? Why a sweet shop of all things?”

    “, all the familiar landmarks of modern England. It was hard, at that moment, to see the world as a dreadful place.”

    Today, in an hour, we shall know who is to be our new PM. It’s, so far, all over our screens in a scrabble of swallowed shrieks amid highly strung interviews and resignations.

  8. —> Page 106

    “everything there is to know about the use of the stream of consciousness in the works of Dorothy Richardson,”

    And thinking of Boris’s accession to the premiership today as he kisses the Queen’s hand. Because when you are driving a car, every decision you make changes the rest of your life – and everything else perhaps. Including all others. Wedding parties. An old man’s tipsy chatting up techniques. The aftermath of the riots and Dave’s part in it. (Dave, a previous premier, first mover and last. As we all are.)
    Yours, Baron Brainbox, your real-time pilgrimage representative for the day. x

  9. —> Page 114


    That is the only chunk I will take out of this book, not because it is the only bit worth reading, it isn’t, but because it makes me understand something about this book that was previously impossible to understand. Something too oblique to nail down in my review today. And I enjoyed this 2012 scene where the late middle-aged author of the novel described in this passage has some of his friends in a pub going over this novel and whittling it down to a core readable novel, to the background singing of Shirley Bassey, Kylie Minogue and Elton John celebrating the Diamond Jubilee.

  10. —> Page 128

    We follow Sophie to, of all things, an Alexandre Dumas convention in Marseille. She randomly follows the French genius-loci city along random streets, like many protagonists in my concurrent tour of We’ll Never Have Paris, as if written specially for someone like me. Updike and Milhaud, notwithstanding. Her extra-marital fling or whatever it was, also notwithstanding. Where sex is now taken almost beyond the pale of bashfulness, but not quite. All beautifully done. Non-didactic fiction supreme, beyond this book’s blurbed pale, too.

    Meanwhile, in my own real-time, I think something significant happened yesterday, hardly noticed by the news reporters. Puritan Steve Baker refused to become one of Boris’s ministers.
    Gloomsters and Doomsters alike.
    Thanks to my Facebook friends, I’m a Gloom Star, I’m a Rock Star (Bowie?)

  11. —> Page 139

    “Benjamin was alone in the mill house, sitting at the desk in his study, making cuts and revisions to his novel, while listening to a string quartet by Arthur Honegger.”

    There was a novelist recently taken to task, justifiably or not, for including a “Bach String Quartet” in his story. Anyone including one by Honegger, deserves a lot of respect. The existence of such a String Quartet must be implicit by such a choice. But that’s not really the point, as the point was that Benjamin was doing this and everyone else in this book was watching the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, in different places, with different interpretations and bringing different degrees of knowledge to each item. I found it satisfying to be reminded of this ceremony, its spectacle and its scope and the nature of each of its references. A pink pig, Mike Oldfield, Kenneth Branagh, Tim Berners-Lee (who made this on-line review possible, the gestalt nature of which is further inspired by the triangulation of coordinates by all the characters about the opening ceremony) and much more. And Boris, too, was in it as London Mayor, although that is not mentioned here. Or was he just in the closing ceremony? Later, Benjamin listens to the saxophonist Tony Coe. Any relation?

    Today, in real time, Boris made a speech about Northern Powerhouse.

  12. —> Page 158

    “St Paul’s Cathedral looked tiny and vulnerable from here, struggling to assert any kind of identity in the face of the modernist, Brutalist and post-modernist creations…”

    “We’re the String Quartet.”

    Sophie, as a lecturer, becomes part of a cruise ship’s entertainment squad. I wonder if the SQ will play Honegger, after being mistaken for the male strippers! There is also a grumpy novelist prepared only to give one reading from his book, and no discussion groups about writing. And the people on Sophie’s dining table seem pretty grey, and close to death. I had to laugh, because only a day or so ago our news in the real-time of 2019 was full of a mass riot by guests on a cruise ship. A political argument, I gather, sparked it off! And someone dressed as a clown. Now even more telling in view of this preternatural synchronicity with Coe’s Middle England?
    This book has its secret tongue in its obvious cheek, a sort of quilt of ironies unique to what is being written here, I feel.
    My oldest friend told me just now that I might have missed a Boris reference by Benjamin about being at university together. Either I missed it, or my friend has already read it ahead of me in the book by getting to it first. The story of my life!

  13. —> Page 179

    “…Sibelius’s house close to Lake Tuusula, culminating in a performance of FINLANDIA at the local music academy. And that evening, they set sail for St Petersburg.”

    The cruise continues and concludes, with references to the accretion of thoughts in Middle England folk, ironically out here on the open ocean, thoughts of unfairness (in whatever shape of truth or fiction, prejudice or sincere belief) caused by all the shades of minorities back home. And other witty or wry moments. There is also a sort of tontine process among the human constituents on Sophie’s dining table involving diminuendo by death! Appropriately, the earlier mention of Sibelius reminded me of the fact that he generally stopped producing music in his last thirty years of life, an astonishingly long decline commonly referred to as “The Silence of Järvenpää”.

    We now leap to 2015, where Benjamin is in the Garden Centre admiring his new novel in published form, albeit published as a favour of friendship. He also meets his oldest friend out of the blue, this friend now coming out of his disguise acting the rôle of Baron Brainbox… one of two competing clowns amid “quivering hatred and malevolence.” It seems incredibly strange that I mentioned a clown yesterday above in quite a different but telling context.
    And today in 2019, Boris Brainbox goes to Scotland, cap in hand, to meet Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson!

  14. —> Page 201

    “Solid opening sentence. Bit predictable, perhaps. But he would press on.”

    Talk of the 2015 General Election. A bacon sandwich. Remember that? Dave planning an ‘advisory’ in/out EU Referendum. Other more private in/out things. And young people thinking older ones are too binary. Wait till Twitter really kicked in later, I say! After the Brexit referendum, which I presume lies ahead of me in this book as part of its plot. By the way, in the current pages, did anyone have such foresight to warn those advising Dave about the drawbacks in holding such a Referendum in view of what we now know happened later? Seemed a bit preternatural to me! Only God the omniscient author, errr, knows everything. And if I told you here what happens now with Benjamin’s published novel, I would be accused of being a book reviewer breaking trust with that omniscience…. life is one long plot spoiler, I guess, with everyone anticipating the pitfalls that they simply KNOW are coming down the track. Life is too realistic, I also guess. Bit predictable.
    Meanwhile, today, Boris goes to Wales. Did the Famous Five ever go there?

  15. —> Page 221

    The psychogeography of “Deep England”, with references to the characters playing golf, a hankering after the 1950s, fox-hunting, Elgar or Tolkien, and many other names in traditional and semi-modern English literature and music that also happen to appeal to me. But am I hankering, too? Beyond the ‘tyranny of political correctness’? 564107FA-375A-4468-8A4D-D9A476C44ED8Part of me does, admittedly. While the other part of me hankers for an endemic breaking of rules, here emblemised by the words to Blake’s Jerusalem. And Benjamin is interviewed by a young lady about his novel, an eye-opener for him, I feel. And I reach the bit where he was with Boris at university, but didn’t know him, as Boris was the type not to mix with grammar school boys (like me.) Today, meanwhile, Boris goes to Stormont, and Steve Bannon — Boris’s, Nigel’s and Donald’s soulmate spur — is interviewed on radio, whereby he says we have seen nothing yet regarding Brexit: we are about to enter what he describes as the RED ZONE.

  16. —> Page 254

    “‘I suppose a lot of things happened in the world between the thirties and seventies. A lot changed. Maybe not so much since.’”

    But what about the tweetstorms, the Social Justice Warriors portrayed here regarding a slip of the tongue about Munch to a transgender person… Meanwhile, a glimpse of flirting as a means to ask someone how you think Dave’s forthcoming EU Referendum will go, which reminds me, I must mention the hilarious – and poignant – renewal of sexual activities by two fifty-somethings in these pages, a brilliant sex scene (beyond bashfulness) with Benjamin (recently shafted with out of context quotes by that interview girl) meeting up with an old girl friend from schooldays, a possibly far-fetched sex scene involving an entrance to Narnia, the Devil’s Doorbell and the mistaken identity of a candle. Not so far-fetched, though, is someone wanting to hold THAT Referendum! A true fiction, that. And what happened afterwards.

    I mentioned earlier about a part of me wanting to break rules, why another part of me hankered after tradition. Well, it’s a choice you make regarding what rules you break, and what rules you don’t break. Mine to be broken are most often artistic rules. But these sometimes become part of a Venn diagram with more important things. But importance, who deems what has it and what doesn’t? And today, more billions of of our hard-taxed pounds are ear-marked by Sajid Javid (the first Chancellor whose name rhymes) for the latter half of ‘Deal, or No Deal’. Bring back Noel Edmonds, I say. I used to enjoy that show. Transgressive maybe to have enjoyed it, but the boxes never lied.

  17. —> Page 263

    “Everything’s a bit scary, when you get to my age, because you know what’s waiting for you, just around the corner.”

    …and that’s not just death!
    Movingly wry scenes of Benjamin taking his fading Dad to the site of the Longbridge car plant where he used to work. Now selling women’s underwear, wimpy salads, et al, as the new production lines.
    This book writes about such rewriting, as I myself remain “a quiet, introverted writer, as much preoccupied with his inner imaginative universe as with the world around him.” Well, at least that part of me, still fighting the battle for my own gestalt! Who’s laughing loudest, though, something in my head asks me.

    And who is laughing at whom, today? The anti-Brexit Liberals/ Greens etc. won the bye election of Brecon and Radnorshire against the same Tory man who had stood down in disgrace to cause the bye election in the first place! And has anyone noticed the Brexit Party’s votes when added to those of the Tories mean the Brexiteers would have won. None of it makes much sense. None of it ever will. Past the tipping-point, well, at least, I am.

  18. —> Page 278

    ‘“What happens if we leave the EU?” “What happens if Donald Trump becomes US President?” You live in a fantasy world, you people.’

    Much forced dialogue about politics and its people (including Dave and Jeremy) in early 2016, and the then-approaching Brixit Referendum. No plot spoilers, though, in any of my reviews, so none in this one, even though we know the ending already!
    More plot business with Benjamin and his old school friend who acts as a clown. Prejudice does not necessarily mean that whatever you are actually prejudiced against or for makes you justifiably or unjustifiably prejudiced?

    Yesterday, Boris went to the damaged dam in Derbyshire. A dam that is a metaphor for Brixit itself? Brix out of the walls, as everything is sold on-line.

  19. —> Page 298

    Stroke damage for a character in these pages, and this reminds me of what I said about today’s dam above. Someone else on TV today also said it about the dam being a metaphor for Brixit, so I assume they must be following this review, while the 2016 Referendum approaches in this book’s own real-time, along with Obama’s end-of-the-queue statement, and Dave and George’s ‘project fear’ (the approach of one’s own inevitable”e death, following a likely stroke, being a brand of project fear?), and Dave also says Brixit will cause World War Three! Well, it still might! Not necessarily that that eventuality is as a result of direct cause-and-effect but rather by the power of Jungian synchronicity in the scheme of things that World War Three follows Brixit as night follows day. I prefer RADIO Three. Anyway, it seems clear to me that Brixit actually CAUSED Trump!
    Sophie still grapples with her ‘gardening leave.’

  20. —> Page 311

    “One half of the country seemed to have become fiercely hostile towards the other.”

    Politics, even in June 2016, is dividing family and friends, days before the actual Referendum, with Farage standing in from of that infamous poster, and Jo Cox being assassinated, plus there are genuine factual complications making it difficult to decide, yet it has often since become (or it was already?) an all-prevailing vision or religion, nothing else penetrating these complications. As an inferred aside, what is the difference between nationalism and patriotism? Only fiction can penetrate such things?

    Still, life and death and their sorrows can divide family and friends, too, as great novels of fiction generally attest, as this particular novel also attests here in these pages, as well as an ironic or absurdist portrait of the times, an approach that can shed even more light. Not didactic so much as disarming.

    I intend to continue my observations on this page, even after finishing the Coe novel, until Brixit actually happens at the end of October.
    Yesterday, Dominic Cummings spit out his tea in laughter when he announced that it is now too late for Parliament to stop No Deal.

  21. —> Page 320

    We leap to September 2017. References here again to Jo Cox, an incident over a year before that, and the then more recent Parsons Green bombing, and we follow two of the main characters, brother and sister, as they neatly arc into the wind the respective ashes of their Mum and Dad from off Beacon Hill. Touchingly to the sound of The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams, a composer who I also feel is a fine representative of this island nation, and one of my favourite pieces of music, too.
    In oblique connection, another happening in our own real-time — and I make no judgement on it other than to feel its seriousness and sadness — a few days ago a 17 year old boy seemed gratuitously to throw a (for him, disconnected) six year old French boy off a high level storey of the Tate Modern gallery of absurd and conceptual art towards the ground below…
    Something absurdist in the wind. Something tragic, too.

  22. —> Page 334

    After visiting a vaginal operation patient, Sophie ponders her counsellor saying, after talk of marriage break-up these days involving at least a bit of over-roasting of the Brixit, “As if the referendum wasn’t about Europe at all. Maybe something more fundamental and personal was going on. Which is why this might be a difficult problem to resolve.”
    And there is talk later by two men in a coffee shop, coffee shops with skinny lattes that beset all our town centres and antique buildings, though this one has no latte, I recall — talk of Cameron’s epiphany with a garden shed, and the beautifully, almost frighteningly, poignant breakdown by one of these talking coffee shop men into a great big government in-the-know WE’RE FUCKED rant… this man soon to be off on a trip in a hot air balloon as the tail end absurdism of that little quiet chat having become quite so loud in the coffee shop!
    And later Benjamin’s meatily paragraphed soliloquy in another coffee shop, if my ageing mind can recall correctly, a theme and variations upon a line from Fielding’s ‘Amelia’, and about his ‘inner emigrants’ mindset and the Bullingdon Club conspiracy of ‘cunts’!

    Below is my erstwhile Fb post, not this book’s!

  23. —> Page 361

    “Charlie was positively excited about being immortalized in Benjamin’s next work of fiction.”

    As no doubt Cameron et al will be negatively excited!
    And has the 2017 General Election been airbrushed? Or did I miss it somewhere? Or did it never happen? Concurrently reading an Ian McEwan novel (here) where the Falklands War seems to have a different ending! Is this Coe novel also a SF one?
    This bit of the Coe is about an oldest and best friend inadvertently writing better fiction than the serious writer half of that friendship!
    And where does Federico Lorca fit in? Jim’ll Brix It as a sort of Blood Wedding? “The world was changing now, things were spinning out of control in unpredictable ways,…” it says.

    “Our central argument is that the various and disparate forms of discontent which led 51.9 % of voters to vote Leave must not be allowed to fade away…”
    Coe quotes this from a leaked document.
    But not necessarily as much as that if the number who voted Leave is applied to the total number of potential voters who could care and/or understand enough about such an important matter? And, anyway, in most organisations, they generally need a two-thirds vote to change any status quo!

  24. —> end

    We leap to April 2018 and thereafter to the end of September that year within a slice of fiction time now ended, often airbrushed like SF but also too too real, in illuminatingly absurdist rather than constrictively polarised terms about the Brexit baby, that shrieking knot of hysteria or keening pitifulness/ pitilessness of once genuine passion, still being born, as well as this book’s own spoiler-free yet contrastive real baby in its last line. Fiction is the only place where real babies are born, for good or ill. Must be caught speeding one day! The game of chance.
    From the Leave climes of Hartlepool to France to teach a new Alexandre beyond Dumas, and many people still remembering that Enoch Powell speech from donkey’s years ago, reconciliations and continued recriminations, marital and otherwise, the missed games of chance of erstwhile Marseille, the hounding out of those who appear not one of us, must “keep that anger burning” for those who now believe in the ‘will of the people’ as part of their Brexit ‘wet dream’, the prevailing audit trail of scorched earth policies since 1979, nostalgia for the old school days and the buildings we once frequented, even one old teacher still sitting there in the staff room as if in a ghost story…

    “Darkness was creeping rapidly over the playing fields.”


    Boris’s playing fields again? Today, in our own real-time, Dominic Cummings, a name to watch, says that they will unconstitutionally or constitutionally diarise any general election date for fractionally after Halloween, a witching hour to do or die. A million to one chance, a new lottery for Noel to run. It was he who hosted its first night back in the nineties. Gove is the first four letters of government. A game of chance indeed. Speeding towards go slow.


    Any further reports on the political situation will continue here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/22845-2/

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