2020 Alphabet Soup Author Challenge – Middle England – Jonathan Coe

Genre: Literary fiction

Narrative Style: Third person from multiple viewpoints

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2018  

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Coe returns to the Trotter family to examine the state of the nation in the run up to and following the vote to leave the EU. 

Having read the previous two books in this series, I was fairly sure that I would enjoy this. Also, I thought it would be interesting to see what novelists might be making of Brexit and the way that it seems to have torn the country apart.

Middle England is a funny and clever read andCoe has an easy to read style. Going back over such recent political history reminded me of exactly what the run up to the referendum was like. Coe shows both the casual racism of the leave voters and the stark horror and naivety of remainers. He isn’t particularly judgemental about either side, preferring to focus on the conflict caused in families and between friends.

My favourite part of the novel was the various descriptions of the characters watching the opening ceremony to the 2012 olympics. Coe carefully showcases their differing attitudes and how they are variously sucked into the ceremony almost against their better interest. There is only Benjamin who genuinely has no interest in what is happening. Indeed, he wanders through the novel in a sort of self-absorbed fog, missing the fact that the woman he has been dating is in love with him completely.

This is a very middle class book. Benjamin, who no longer needs to work, finally has the leisure to write his masterpiece. Sophie his niece is a lecturer, as is her best friend, Sohan. Doug, an old school friend, is a journalist. At the end of the novel, Benjamin and his sister, Lois, escape from England into the countryside of France before the Brexit deadline. They have the money to escape the worst of what Brexit has to offer. I must admit I found this a little irritating. As a solution to the Brexit problem, it is extremely limited.

Another irritant was the story arc of Sophie. When she marries Ian, who she met after being caught speeding and taking his course instead of a fine, it seems doomed to fail as we have already been given hints of his right wing views. This finally comes to a head after the referendum and they separate. I thought that this was good for Sophie but by the end of the novel, she is back with Ian and also pregnant (despite not wanting children earlier in the novel. This was a little disappointing and it felt as if Coe couldn’t imagine what to do with her or a better way to end a female story.

All in all though, this was an enjoyable read which cleverly describes the way the country is split at the moment.

 

 

2020 Alphabet Soup Author Challenge – Ian Rankin – In a House of Lies

Genre: British Detective, Scottish Fiction

Narrative Style: Third person from multiple viewpoints.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2018

Format: Paperback

Reading Challenges: 2020 Alphabet soup Author Challenge.

I always enjoy a Rebus story. This one was a Christmas present and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. On the whole, I wasn’t disappointed – as you can see from my rating – but it has to be said, I’m not sure how long Rankin can keep this up for.

When a body turns up in the boot of a car and it turns out to be the body of Stuart Bloom, Rebus knows that he could be in a lot of trouble. He was part of the original inquiry when Stuart disappeared. To say it hadn’t gone well would be an understatement. On top of that, Siobhan Clarke is receiving anonymous phone calls and has had graffiti sprayed on her front door.

This is a tale of the ways policing has changed. Although the original inquiry was in 2006, it feels much older. Stuart Bloom was gay and that had a huge effect on the original enquiry with homophobia being just one of the many problems. There are cops taking backhanders, working for shady businessmen in their spare time as well as cops like Rebus, trying desperately to hide everyone else’s lies. Interviews and meetings were fabricated. All of which is now being looked at very closely by Malcolm Fox, a man who Rebus has had run ins with before.

As ever, there is a lot of moral ambiguity in Rankin’s writing. We want the good guys to win obviously but Rebus does not always follow the rule book. For me, that is his main charm. Siobhan, so long under his wing, is similarly likely to follow her own tune. So the question is whether you allow for their breaking of the rules because it is in the name of justice or believe that they are tainted by their actions. Certainly the right people get their comeuppance but whether Rebus should get into more trouble than he does is another question entirely.

My one complaint would be that as Rebus gets older, it gets harder and harder for Rankin to find a place for him within the police force. He is very much a civilian and, at times, he feels shoe horned into the narrative. I’m not sure how many more times Rankin will be able to manage it. Which is a shame but both Clarke is an interesting character. It may be time to give her the lead.