The State of the Nation novel: part three

And so, following The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle, we come to the final novel in Jonathan Coe’s trilogy, Middle England. Awarded the Costa Novel prize in 2019, Middle England opens in 2010, with our protagonist Benjamin Trotter and his friends from his secondary school days now in their fifties. Marriages that were still vibrant in The Closed Circle have grown stale, parents are growing infirm and dying (the novel opens with the funeral of Benjamin’s mother, and midway through the novel his father dies too) and the next generation are now adults and forging their way in life (a substantial part of the novel is devoted to Sophie, Benjamin’s niece, her career as a fledgling academic, and her on-off marriage to a driving instructor, Ian, she meets on a speed awareness course). On the plus side, though, Benjamin has at last finished his novel, which becomes an overnight success when it is longlisted for the Man Booker prize.  Continue reading “The State of the Nation novel: part three”

The State of the Nation novel: part two

In November 2020 I wrote a post on the state of the nation novel, a book that doesn’t just tell a story but also deals with the significant social and political questions at the time the book is set. My focus was Jonathan Coe’s 2001 novel The Rotters’ Club, the first of three novels all featuring the same group of characters. This post is about the second novel, The Closed Circle (published in 2004). Coe’s interest in documenting historical and political events in his own fiction is mirrored in the novel that his principal character, Benjamin Trotter, is writing. Titled Unrest, Benjamin describes it to his niece Sophie: ‘it’s about some of the political events from the last thirty years or so, and how they relate to … events in my own life, I suppose’.  Continue reading “The State of the Nation novel: part two”

Twelfth Night Cake

Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch…’ (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol) Continue reading “Twelfth Night Cake”

Christmas feasting

When it comes to food at Christmas, in addition to the foodstuffs usually eaten – mince pies, turkey, Christmas cake – another traditional feature is the amount of food consumed. We expect to spend more money on food, to have our kitchen cupboards and fridges full to bursting and to eat so much that our New Year’s Resolution yet again has to be to go on a diet and start going to the gym. Continue reading “Christmas feasting”