A Bournville, un sobborgo di Birmingham dove ha sede una famosa fabbrica di cioccolato, l’undicenne Mary e la sua famiglia celebrano il Giorno della vittoria sul nazifascismo. Ascoltano con attenzione la voce di Winston Churchill alla radio che annuncia la fine delle ostilità. Mary avrà figli, nipoti e pronipoti, sarà testimone di un’incoronazione, quella di Elisabetta II, dell’indimenticabile finale della Coppa del Mondo del 1966, di un matrimonio da favola e di un funerale reale, quelli della principessa Diana, della Brexit e infine del Covid. Settantacinque anni di profondi cambiamenti sociali che hanno trasformato la famiglia di Mary e tutto il paese. Divertente ed emozionante, Bournville è la storia di una donna, della passione di un paese per il cioccolato e della Gran Bretagna.
Jonathan Coe, born 19 August 1961 in Birmingham, is a British novelist and writer. His work usually has an underlying preoccupation with political issues, although this serious engagement is often expressed comically in the form of satire. For example, What a Carve Up! reworks the plot of an old 1960s spoof horror film of the same name, in the light of the 'carve up' of the UK's resources which some felt was carried out by Margaret Thatcher's right wing Conservative governments of the 1980s. Coe studied at King Edward's School, Birmingham and Trinity College, Cambridge, before teaching at the University of Warwick where he completed a PhD in English Literature. In July 2006 he was given an honorary degree by The University of Birmingham.
Just as he did in his Middle England trilogy, Coe here has given so much space to describing events of the period in question that it often reads as much like a short history of modern Britain as a novel. It's a frustrating habit of Coe's, but I nevertheless adore his books. His writing is wonderful, his stories are clever and deep, and his left-wing politics are always spot on. Although this was by no means my favourite of his novels - The Rotters Club and What A Carve Up! share that particular crown - it was a consistently good one, and it wins bonus points for ridiculing that awful, awful arserag, Boris Johnson.
If you enjoy sweeping family sagas, populated by wonderful characters, balanced narratives with stellar endings, then like me, you will love this novel. “Everything changes, and everything stays the same.”
My review is published in the November issue of Goodreading magazine.
I've only read one other Coe novel - Middle England - and from that limited experience it seems that Coe has a tried-and-tested formula: state of the nation novels focusing on a specific (or a number of specific) events in recent(ish) history, and a tight cast of characters who spend a fair chunk of the narrative ruminating on politics and current affairs in said moment in history.
Coe's latest offering heads back to an area he knows well: the West Midlands. Educated in Edgbaston, one gathers from the epilogue that many of the locales featured in Bournville are/were familiar to him in his younger years. Currently living in the West Midlands myself I was interested in a novel which featured the area so prominently, but I think the book was a bit of a letdown in that regard - the sections on the history of Bournville were interesting though.
Now the author was not to know that since his epilogue was written a mere 5 months ago in April 2022 that a) the Queen would have passed away and, b) Boris Johnson would no longer be in power and the UK would be in an even worse state of affairs. The news in the UK is totally saturated by these topics right now - understandably - so perhaps for me personally this was not a good moment to read a novel that featured these two themes so prominently when I am reading a novel to relax and escape from constant discussion and rumination on such topics. If you're a fan of zeitgeist-y reads then maybe this will all work better for you.
Don't get me wrong: these are important topics, and there are many thought-provoking and interesting things that could be said about them/ways they could be included in a novel, but here they felt almost ancillary to the story the author was trying to tell and like they had been shoehorned in. Several big milestone events for the monarchy in the 20th century - the Queen's coronation, Charles and Diana's wedding, Diana's death - are titles of sections of the book and feature quite heavily, and I get that Coe was trying to say that whilst the lives of the characters moved on and these big events happened things didn't really change that much for the lives of ordinary people of the UK... but somehow it didn't make for an engaging or particularly entertaining read for me. I didn't care about anything that happened to any of the characters. It felt like a checklist of topics one would associate with the mid to late-20th century arbitrarily cobbled together.
Disappointing stuff. I think this novel was trying to do way too much and as a result didn't end up achieving any of it.
Thank you Netgalley and Penguin UK for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Только перечитав недавно несколько старых, еще викторианских романов Херберта Уэллза, понял на этом Коу, до чего и он викторианск. И, конечно, мастер "ебаного кошмара" - набирающих обороты абсурдных ситуаций, вызывающих невольное содроганье, в которых неловко за всех, но ржешь тем не менее.
Но роман прекрасен и уютен снова, и как часть саги, и сам по себе, потому что в деле воспевания британских скреп (не без доли яда, конечно, что само по себе британская скрепа) Коу - прямо Голсуорзи нового и новейшего аремени.
И, как ни странно, это о нас нынешних, хотя, конечно, нихера мы не англичане. "Приходят времена, когда каждый должен выбрать сторону". Очень, гадство, созвучно. Это гениальный роман.
3.5. Everything changes and everything stays the same...
Bournville is an enjoyable family saga, centred on the memorable Mary - inspired by Jonathan Coe's own mother - whom we first meet in her little village on VE Day.
Then an 11-year-old growing up in the literal shadow of the Cadbury's factory, and the metaphorical shadow of WW2, we follow Mary as she grows up, finds love and work and has a relatively normal British life. A life full of dreams connections, happiness, the odd regret.
We drop in on her every 10 years or so, at the big moments in the British century; The Queen's coronation, the '66 World Cup final, Diana's marriage and death. As well as Mary, we get to see her family and the country as a whole change. Or not. Concluding with the recent (current?) pandemic, Bournville paints a picture of a Britain surging with progress, leaning from optimism to pessimism, from acceptance to rejection.
The characters are believable and well drawn, the premise is tantalising and skillfully constructed. But it is a bit light and sentimental for my taste, and the politics is way too on the nose. Still, an enjoyable read and one I'm sure will do well.
Have to read this - I live there. Well, bored. It had some interest certainly, some humour. But I'm not really one for having great gobbets of history in the form of the King's VE Day speech, the 1966 World Cup commentary, the TV commentary on Di & Charles' wedding etc. interwoven with a family history by numbers. To illustrate this latter, take the schematic three brothers here - one is left, one right and one SDP; one turns out to be gay (spoiler but I don't care) later in life, and another marries a black woman; one Brexit, one Remain - you get the picture. An easy read that goes down like a pint of Carling (generic lager) and doesn't touch the sides.
Jonathan Coe is chronicler of contemporary events. It’s a style of writing from which he does not waver. If I was to be critical there’s a sense of his writing by numbers; If I'm being positive its apparent that the course of history is endlessly fascinating and so there is a pipeline of lived life for Coe to draw on. Should the next novel be in the offing, Coe already has a ready made opening setting with the death and state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. The political backdrop has also thrown up extraordinary events already, in the UK, with Johnson and Truss demonstrating how fertile this ground continues to be.
I read the book in December 2022 as the Qatar football World Cup took place. Would England win? Back in 1966, and one of Coe's pivotal national moments of reflection, England won the World Cup. This was an immediate example of the main recurring theme : “Everything changes, and everything stays the same”
As somebody of Coe’s age both the period covered (1945-2000) and therefore his perspective on events resonated throughout. My particular favourite memory jogs were firstly the (Austin) Metro car, launched with great fanfare as the saviour of the British motoring industry (and also a Diana Spencer favourite). Secondly a fishing trip is described in which twelve cans of “Double Diamond” are drunk. As a child I recall asking my mother if Double Diamond was the best (the power of advertising 'A Double Diamond works wonders' was already working on me!)
A reflective theme of the book, articulated by the thoroughly unpleasant Jack is that: “You worry too much. Things that you can’t do anything about- and mostly things that have got nothing to do with you” “The world would be a better place if we all just tended to our own little patch, because trying to interfere with stuff like that always makes it worse” (344)
This was a satisfying read and my only negative observation is that the generational shift and the alternating time shift within sections made it difficult to reconcile how each character was related by birth to one another.
Coe uses some big 20th century historical moments to situate and contextualise his vivid characters. I love books that remind us that we are living through and part of history. We exist in time and space. Coe is telling stories within larger stories and it’s all delightful. This is impressively as good as Middle England
The author’s theme here is the influences of the various changes in British society spanning 75 years, from VE Day to the Covid pandemic hysteria, as shown through several generations of a family living in the Cadbury factory village of Bournville, Birmingham. Amongst these influences on family life and the sense of British identity and mood are, the sexual revolution, racism, modern technology, the mass media, the EU and the Monarchy, Coe’s narrative style follows the Dicken’s tradition of a ‘state of the nation’ social commentary, but his often heavy-handedly expressed political opinions (e.g. his anti-Brexit stance) can sometimes marr the reading experience for me.
Ma quanto è bello scoprire un autore di cui non si è mai letto nulla e rendersi conto di avere decine di libri da recuperare? Con questo romanzo la mia wishlist si è magicamente allungata!!
Bournville, ultimo romanzo di Jonathan Coe, è il racconto di un luogo di una famiglia legati a filo doppio. Una fabbrica di cioccolato, un piccolo borgo alle porte di Birmingham e quasi un secolo di storia inglese, questi sono gli ingredienti che fanno di questo romanzo una chicca imperdibile!
Immaginate un luogo nato per ospitare tutti i lavatori di una fabbrica; un piccolo borgo immerso nel verde, nel quale è vietata lavadita di alcolici e bambini sono liberi di scorrazzare per strada! Questa è Bournville! E qui Mary e la sua famiglia assistono ai grandi eventi e ai cambiamenti che il Regno Unito affronterà in quasi un secolo di storia.
Una saga familiare atipica, ironica, divertente e commovente al tempo stesso!
Being aware of the homes built to support the workers, I was keen to read this one.
Bournville is the name of the town which sprung up around Cadbury's factory in Birmingham and this is the story of four generations of a family who lived there. Tied in, as you would expect, with the world of chocolate manufacturing it paints a picture of the social changes in Britain from the post-war era to the present day.
I expected to enjoy this novel as I was born in the late fifties and was familiar with the events covered. There are some amusing moments and it is enlightening to be reminded of how things have changed over the years. At times, I wasn't sure whether it counted as a novel as I often found the author's own opinions on the pages. This rather spoiled things for me and took away the 'fictional' part of the read. Not quite as good as I expected and, for me, a four star read.
Coe does a good line in witty state-of-the-nation novels (e.g., Number 11). Patriotism versus xenophobia is the overarching dichotomy in this one, as captured through one family's response to seven key events from English history over the last 75+ years, several of them connected with the royals. Ceremonies like the Queen's coronation and Charles and Diana's wedding are opportunities for unlikely sets of people (such as the Indian neighbours, or middle son Martin's new girlfriend, who happens to be Black) to come together as witnesses of the public pomp on television. Germans are the shunned enemy in the early chapters, followed by people of colour and, later, European bureaucracy.
In a satire, characters often play representative roles, so patriarch Geoffrey and eldest son Jack are the pseudo-villains here, the one a racist and the other a Brexiteer, both concerned with personal gain above all else. Mary Lamb, the matriarch, is an Everywoman who had a happy career as a PE teacher and loves her sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but always wonders what would have happened had she broken her engagement to Geoffrey and accepted that dashing journalist's advances instead. It's a sweet reminder that every life harbours unfulfilled longings. She remains something of a blank overall, with her sons Martin and Peter the most interesting characters: Martin involved in the Cadbury chocolate company's attempted expansion into Europe (Bournville being Cadbury's factory town near Birmingham) and Peter a musician who only becomes aware of his sexuality a bit later in life.
Coe mixes things up by including monologues, diary entries, a long childhood reminiscence attached to a letter (I didn't find David's role essential here, and hadn't realized the Foley family are recurring characters in his novels, including in two others I've read, Expo 58 and Mr Wilder & Me), and so on. In some sections he cuts between the main action and a transcript of a speech, TV commentary, or set of regulations. Covid informs his prologue and highly autobiographical final chapter, and it's clear he's furious with the government for saying one thing and doing another. Indeed, Boris Johnson shows up at multiple points and is the true villain of the novel. Nostalgia, neutrality and family inheritance are related topics that arise from the central consideration of nationalism and the mythologizing of history.
The only thing I might have liked is to have gotten closer to Mary. Otherwise, this is very successful at what it sets out to do. The focus on the Midlands and the "Chocolate Wars" is a refreshing break from the London setting of many similar works. I especially appreciated the interrogation of the British obsession with the royal family -- the chapter on Princess Diana's funeral seemed prescient about what followed the Queen's death last year. And although it doesn't feel quite as timely as it might have a year or two ago, the novel also captures the strangeness of the lockdown periods.
This book has an interesting and ‘novel’ structure, excuse the pun: it is the story of one woman’s life, and that of her family, told in the context of seven memorable occasions in their lives and the life of the nation – the UK that is.
Those occasions are as follows:
VE Day, 8 May 1945; The Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2 June 1953; The World Cup Final: England v West Germany, 30 July 1966; The Investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales, 1 July 1969; The Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, 29 July 1981; The Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales; The 75th Anniversary of VE Day
The sections deal with her/their thoughts and feelings on each occasion, the relationships within the family and how those develop as they grow up, change, have families of their own (or not), and their reminiscences about the past and their lives.
It is an easy read but is not always light – it has its poignant moments, and may just make you shed a tear or two at times. It is also a sort of social history of the UK, reminding us of how much things have changed since the war (World War 2, of course, which in the UK is often known just as ‘the war’).
It is also a potted history of Cadbury’s, the English chocolate maker so loved by the Brits and, now that it is owned by an enormous American company that has ruined it in some ways, is also known throughout the world owing to the new owners’ excellent marketing abilities. The title is Bournville because Bournville is the suburb of Birmingham where the Cadbury factory was built, and which provided employment for generations of Bournville residents. In fact, the village was built by Cadbury’s for its employees. Read the book to get all the details.
When I lived in Brunei (Borneo), I was surprised to find just as enormous a display of Cadbury’s chocolate in SupaSave as I did in Tesco in England.
So overall, this story is a celebration of the UK, a reminiscence of our country and our people, and a reminder of how we have changed as a nation; it is also a family’s story: their loves, arguments, successes, failures, regrets, ambitions and achievements. The phrase that crops up more than once is ‘Everything changes, and everything stays the same’.
Perhaps not as immersive as Coe’s other books but still a skilful state-of-the-nation novel and a kind of companion piece to Middle England. Nice to see Bournville and Aberystwyth represented on the page too.
“Past, present and future: that was what she heard….Everything changes, and everything stays the same.”
I’m sure my request for Bournville by Jonathan Coe was inspired by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Promising a portrait of Britain as experienced by a middle class family over a period of seventy five years, I felt a tug of nostalgia tied to the end of an era.
After a prologue set in 2020, Coe begins with VE Day in 1945 where the residents of Bournville, a Birmingham village built around the Cadbury chocolate factory, simply known as the Works, are celebrating the end of the war. It’s here that eleven year old Mary lives with her parents Sam and Doll, and over the next seven decades, coinciding with seven memorable events in British history, Coe revisits Mary and her growing family.
The unique structure works well to reflect the national and individual experience of the changes in culture, attitudes, politics, technology and economics. I enjoyed the sojourn through each ‘occasion’ which includes the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the World Cup Final between England v. West Germany in 1966, the investiture of Prince Charles in 1969, his wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, and then the Princess’s tragic death in 1997, ending with 2020, which marks the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, and the start of the CoVid pandemic, but it is the journey of the characters that illustrate their meaning. Coe charts the family’s joys and griefs, triumphs and regrets, gains and losses, creating a history of their own as time marches on.
Written with tenderness, humour, and insight, Bournville evokes life’s ordinary and extraordinary moments. Enjoy with a block of Cadbury chocolate.
Jonathan Coe seems to have got a bit ... well, Middle English. Gone is the absurdity and angry satire of his earliest novels. But also gone is the complex world-building and character development of The Rotters' Club and The Closed Circle. He just seems to be going through the motions of writing big "state of the nation" novels now. This fell as flat as Middle England for me. I think he wrote both of them too close to the events they cover.
There is some fun to be had -- the earliest parts of the novel are the best, and the scene of the family watching the Queen's coronation is genuinely funny. There are several family gatherings along the way and these ensembles work best. As for Princess Diana's funeral, the eye-popping episode near the end comes closest to his earliest outrageous black humour. But the chapter about the chocolate wars was dull (I suppose that's part of the point) and throughout the novel he bumps up the wordcount by including large verbatim chunks of speeches and television commentary.
You don't read Coe novels for the beautiful writing but for the social observation, and he's still good at that. That said, the chapter about Mary's death (based on his own mother's experience) was genuinely heartfelt -- and I think was probably what prompted him to write the novel as a tribute to her.
Note: I found out on Twitter that there's a family tree in the French edition, so I bookmarked the tweet for reference and it was useful. Don't know why there isn't one in the English version.
So, a mixed bag really. It took a long time to read because reading it at bedtime we'd get bored after a few pages and put it down.
I was born and grew up by the Lickey Hills and my father worked at Bournville until I was thirteen and for Cadbury’s all his working life. He was involved with politics and joined the SDP. Despite the similarities between the lives of the characters in this book and my own family, I felt no connection or resonances. The centring of this book around royal events possibly didn’t help as they did not stand out in my memory. This is probably unfair, but the style of writing kept reminding me of The Famous Five. Not helped by the jug of lemonade anachronism. And other small details such as Mary playing the piano at her WI every week (surely once a month only) annoyed me. My father had a very good experience of working life. Cadburys supported my own education and allowed my father to take time off for his political activity, they continued to be fantastic employers, not just when they started out at Bournville. I didn’t get that from the book.
3,5/5 I must say, there was some great writing but I am a little disappointed. It just feels a little empty, like a collage of very different things that don’t necessarily make a sound, finished plot. In the end it all feels superficial and scattered, despite done beautiful moments.
Blimey! Χιούμορ, αλήθεια και μια γλυκόπικρη Ιστορία μιας χώρας που είναι "Νησί" και που αυτή τη στιγμή που γράφω εδώ ζει την χειρότερη κρίση της Ιστορίας του. Μια ιστορική αναδρομή μέσα από τις εικόνες και τις αναμνήσεις μιας οικογένειας που δεν διαφέρει πολύ από τις οικογένειες που έχω συναντήσει τα τελευταία 3,5 χρόνια της ζωής μου εδώ στο ΗΒ. Τα περισσότερα με έκαναν να γελάσω γιατί ναι έτσι είναι οι Βρετανοί και ιδιαίτερα οι Άγγλοι. Το τελευταίο κεφάλαιο μου έφερε τις αναμνήσεις του πρώτου εγκλεισμού της πανδημίας για 3 μήνες το 2020 και όλα αυτά τα ανακαλώ σαν να είμαι μέρος κι εγώ των ιστορικών γεγονότων αυτής της χώρας, που είναι εν μέρει το "δεύτερο σπίτι" μου. Όπως λέει κι Coe "Everything changes, and everything stays the same" ή σχεδόν γιατί εμείς αλλάζουμε ωριμαζοντας. ΥΓ Η σοκολάτα Cadbury's Bournville είναι ένα teaser για το τι θα συναντησετε στο τόσο χορταστικό βιβλίο που ετοιμάζεται στα ελληνικά από τις εκδόσεις Πόλις 🌹
Première lecture 2023 et je suis ravie de ce choix, je ne pouvais pas mieux commencer l'année. L'auteur raconte l'histoire d'une famille anglaise des environs de Birmingham, en parallèle d'évènements marquants de la vie britannique : le 8 mai 1945, le couronnement de la reine, la coupe du monde de football de 1966, l'investiture du prince de Galles, les obsèques de la princesse Diana, la pandémie de Covid en 2020. Ce qui est intéressant, c'est de découvrir la perception qu'en ont les personnages de Jonathan Coe, au travers des styles de narration variés qu'utilise l'auteur. Une vraie réussite !
Jonathan Coe writes a gripping and beguiling novel, the remarkable social and political history of Britain, 75 years of political turbulence, changing social norms and attitudes, seen through Mary Lamb and her family, 4 generations captured through time, with Mary feeling near the end of her life as if she is inhabiting the past, present and future. Everything changing, yet nothing changes, and it begins with Lorna, Mary's granddaughter, in Vienna on a musical tour at the start of the pandemic, being asked how Britain got where it is, with Brexit and Boris, by Ludwig. We then tune into 11 year old Mary, celebrating the end of WW2, living in the quiet Birmingham suburb of Bournville, the chocolate village and factory, employing family members through the decades until it is closed down and is turned into a theme park.
The narrative jumps through the years, catching up with family members and their history, anchored by national events, such as the coronation of young Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the triumph of the 1966 World Cup win by England over Germany, the investiture of Charles as the Prince of Wales, the loss of the British Empire but spawning a new national self confidence arising through a cultural renaissance, with the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, culminating in the swinging 60s. It then picks up again in 1981 with the spectacle of Charles and Diana's wedding taking place amidst the background of social unrest with the riots, moving to 1997 with the death and funeral of Princess Diana, and the grief and mourning of a nation, the divisions created by Brexit, right up to the horrors of Covid 19.
This history of Britain is writ large in Mary, and her family, she marries Geoffrey, knowing who he is and his problematic attitudes, she has 3 sons, Jack, Martin and Peter, becoming a grandmother and a great-grandmother. She is obsessed by sports and becomes a PE teacher and is particularly close to her musician son, Peter. The family mirrors the nation's culture, attitudes, political conflicts and divisions, and developments on issues such as race, sexual orientation, the position of women, incorporating both pro and anti-royalist feelings, and the bitterness of the sharp Brexit divisions. This is a a superb and engaging family drama, of our love of chocolate, and British history, a tender, smart, witty, astute and sharply observed state of the nation novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.
I have very mixed feelings about this book, I enjoyed Jonathon Coe's writing and the characters who allowed the narrative to be told. I think that was also the problem though in that, although it was an interesting social history of the last 80+ years of the UK, the author did seem to rely very heavily on printing verbatim speeches from relevant times eg Churchill and the coronation, and this felt a bit lazy and like reading a textbook. 3 1/2 stars rounded up to 4 Thank you to netgalley and Penguin Books for an advance copy of this book.
Jonathan Coe’s latest novel is focused on the Birmingham village of Bournville, which was founded and built by the Cadbury company for the employees of the chocolate factory. The story follows four generations of one family, whose lives are shaped and influenced by both the village and the chocolate factory.
With its opening and closing chapters set in the 2020 lockdown, this novel is circular in its construction, and events take place between VE Day on 8th May 1945 and its 75th anniversary in 2020, encompassing other defining, landmark moments in recent history: the 1953 coronation; the 1966 World Cup final; the investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales; the 1981 royal wedding; and the death of Princess Diana.
Throughout the decades the reader is hooked in as the fortunes of Sam, Bell, their daughter Mary and other family members play out. Over the chapters we see Mary grow and change from an 11 year old child, to a teenager, then a trainee PE teacher with two suitors, a busy working mum with three children, and finally an elderly widow and grandmother.
The characters are extremely well realised and as you follow them across the years you get to know them intimately - they become very real to the reader, and once you finish the novel you find yourself still thinking about them. Witnessing the sweep of the decades and the passing of Mary’s life lends a sense of poignancy to the novel, and a very real feeling of life’s brevity.
We also see how 75 years of great social change and difficult times can disunite and bewilder both a family and the nation as a whole, because this is not just a highly engaging, really well written family saga.
If you have read Coe's other novels, you will know that his forte is political satire, and novels which depict the “state of the nation”. He is a superb chronicler of – and commentator upon -modern social and political history. The years which this story spans offer Coe plenty of scope for this and he uses the novel’s key episodes, and the actions of various family members to display and depict Anglo- German relations; attitudes towards the Royal Family; racism, homophobia and intolerance; snobbery; the development of the European Union; the embracing of Thatcherite aspirational values in everyday lifestyles ; the operation of the EU and some of the European bureaucracy and legislation that arose (as depicted in the “Chocolate war”); immigration; and, Great Britain’s relationship with Europe. Ultimately, Coe charts the rise and rise of Boris and the road to Brexit, both of which clearly bewilder, anger and frustrate him.
As the German musician asks Lorna and her musician partner on their tour of Germany in the opening chapters: “This new path you’ve taken in the last few years – why exactly did you choose it? And why did you choose this man, of all people, to lead you down it?” Coe explores this question in the chapters that follow, and the reader considers the wisdom of the path taken and the choices made.
Yet despite the socio-political history and commentary, the skilful authorial touch ensures that this novel is never dry, dull, polemic. It is always an engaging story, and one which has a tremendous heart, humanity and feeling, as well as humour. The last section of the novel is especially moving because it is based on Coe’s experience of his own mother’s death during the pandemic.
There is also much love shown for Bond films, and of course, inevitably, chocolate!
In the author’s notes at the end of the novel, Coe reveals that Bournville is the fourth in a loosely connected series of five books with the general title of Unrest. (The other titles in the series are: Expo 58; The Rain Before it Falls; and Mr Wilder and Me.) A few characters from these earlier novels make appearances again here in Bournville, but it works really well as a stand-alone, and that was Coe’s stated intention. As such, this is a really well-written, captivating and enjoyable novel, which I would definitely recommend. I enjoyed it very much.
"Alles verandert en alles blijft hetzelfde". Dat is de centrale zin in Bournville, de nieuwste roman van Jonathan Coe waarin we personages tegenkomen uit zijn voorgaande boeken die nu een reeks lijken te vormen onder de algemene titel 'Onrust'. Ook Benjamin Trotter uit de Rotters Club duikt op als een ongeïnspireerd Europarlementslid. Het boek is dan ook vintage Coe en helemaal zoals ik het graag lees: familiegeschiedenis die verbonden is met de Britse sociale en politieke geschiedenis. Centraal figuur die de generaties met elkaar verbindt is Mary (had a little) Lamb. Een vrouw die geïnspireerd is op Coe's eigen moeder.
Blijft alles hetzelfde of verandert alles? Allebei. De Cadbury-fabriek die Britse (nep-)chocolade produceert en centraal in het leven staat van de personages uit het boek, delokaliseert en verandert in een soort nostalgie-pretpark en ook Bournvill en haar bewoners zien er anders uit. Maar De Mens en diens conflicten met zichzelf, maar vooral ook met anderen over waarheen het naar toe gaat met het land, of het naar links of naar rechts moet, of het op tradities moet steunen of net de vooruitgang moet omarmen, of het moet samenwerken met andere landen of zich beter terugplooit op het eiland als het niet gekoeioneerd wil worden door de Duitsers en Fransen, die conflicten waren er al op V-day en zijn er nog steeds 75 jaar later wanneer bevrijdingsdag in volle pandemie gevierd wordt.
In tijdsfragment dat zich tijdens corona afspeelt en dus het verst in de herinnering ligt, lijkt het verleden nog het meest op een ander land, wanneer mensen elkaar niet langer mogen bijstaan tijdens de laatste momenten of rustig van de zon mogen genieten op een boekje. Het multi-perspectivisme in het boek wordt mooi uitgewerkt door verschillende schrijfvormen van dagboekfragmenten tot skypegesprekken en zelfs ambtelijke voorschriften.
Het verleden is nooit dood. Het is niet eens voorbij. Na het lezen van deze Coe, begrijp ik de woorden van Faulkner beter dan ooit.
Premessa doverosa: questo è soprattutto un romanzo scritto per gli inglesi. Racconta la storia della Gran Bretagna attraverso alcuni eventi cardine, dalla fine della guerra, la vittoria del mondiale contro la Germania dell'Ovest, fino al funerale della principessa Diana. In ciò si allontana molto da ciò che pensavo che fosse, ovvero, ingannata dall'immagine in copertina, una sorta di "Fabbrica di cioccolato" in chiave adulta, con giusto un po' di realismo magico. Forse anche per questo ho faticato un po' nella prima parte, e senz'altro anche perché molti degli episodi storici evocati sono inevitabilmente distanti per me: ne ho sentito parlare, ma non li ho vissuti sulla mia pelle, non li ho potuti percepire con il patriottismo degli inglesi (cito ad esempio il capitolo dedicato ai funerali della Principessa Diana, che sconvolsero l'Intero popolo inglese; ma anche lo spot pubblicitario della Austin Metro). Eppure, nonostante ciò, il romanzo trasmette molto anche a chi sia vissuto lontano da tutto ciò e non l'abbia sperimentato in prima persona, grazie alla capacità di Coe, splendido narratore, di avvicinare questi episodi storici alle vicende dei personaggi. Bello, e molto toccante osservarli crescere, trovare il loro posto nel mondo e invecchiare sullo sfondo della storia inglese, di volta in volta raccontata da un diverso punto di vista. Tra tutti è quello di Mary ad avermi colpita di più, forse perché Coe è così naturale e delicato nel mostrarla bambina e giovane donna, protagonista della vicenda, e poi collocarla sullo sfondo, che ci si abitua alla sua presenza, come qualcosa di rassicurante. Come la fabbrica di cioccolato Cadbury di Bournville, cui il romanzo deve il titolo. Uno dei migliori, se non il migliore, tra i romanzi letti quest'anno.