Middle England, by Jonathan Coe.


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When Jonathan Coe discussed with his novelist friend, Alice Adams, what should be the subject of his 13th novel he was encouraged to dig up The Trotter family that had appeared in his classic novel, The Rotters Club, and  The Closed Circle and to set them against the context of Brexit.

And so Benjamin Trotter and co are once again with us, living their life from 2010 to September 2018.

Had Coe waited three years to put pen to paper he could probably not have conceived what would happen beyond his already agog writing.

This for example.

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“Sit up man.”

The most despicable symbolic pose by one of the most odious men to have ever stridden the corridors of Eton or Westminster.

Or this?

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The leaders of the free world.  Admittedly slightly playing it for laughs.

Or one of these?

  • The firing of the father of the House
  • the firing of a very recent Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • the firing of Churchill’s grandson
  • a minority government
  • the total reliance of the DUP to try to hold together a majority, and failing
  • the most populist opposition parties in living memory – some would say fascists vs Trotskyites
  • the complete collapse of the Labour party in Scotland

The list goes on and on and on.

Coe sets his story against the background of the unfolding of David (Dave) Cameron’s legacy – the unbelievable outcome that resulted in this mess.

It’s not Coe’s best novel, it starts and ends weakly, slowly.  But in the central 3rd and 4th acts he creates a vivid satire on the outcomes of the political madness that has engulfed, and internationally embarrassed, this once-great nation.

The murder of Jo Cox, the rise of hate crime, the twitching of middle England’s middle class curtains as Tories tut and huff about the way middle England has ‘changed’.  His main platform is one of increasing racial intolerance that may, or may not, be the foundations of this new populist politics and the central reason for the Brexit decision.

“They” are bad.  Europe stinks. and yet his cast holiday “there”, hire “them” as their orderlies, maids, drivers.

When this book is good it’s page-turningly so.  There are many laugh out loud moments.  But when he goes off the boil, it quickly becomes tepid.

Saying that, Coe is one of our great writers and even a decent, rather than great, Coe is better than most writers’ career highlights.

 

Dear Mr Trump, I just want to bring a point of order to your attention. You might want to think about it next time you try to send folk back to ‘where they came from’.


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Earlier this week a man, unfit for office in my opinion, created the most odious racist slur I can recall in my lifetime from a person with that much influence.  Maybe we have to go back to 1930’s Germany for a comparator, maybe historians can inform me of more recent misdemeanours.

It’s been buzzing around in my brain ever since because its feels not only odious but also ill-informed.

The penny dropped earlier when I thought, if anyone has ANY right to make such a statement, acceptable or otherwise, it surely must be the people that have the only claim to being ‘from here’; Native Americans.

In 1492, before they were massacred by people from ‘over there’, there were 112m Native Americans.

Today there are 5.4 m in a US population of 325m; roughly 2%.

The American Dream; the thing that ‘Makes America Great’ most Americans would, I contend, agree is built around the notion of the ‘land of opportunity’ where anyone, from anywhere, can, if they apply themselves, make a great life – even if they arrive poverty stricken.  (Anyone who has visited Ellis Island Museum, as I have, will see this brought into sharp relief.)

Trump may have been born in America, as three of his four slandered Democratic women – note they were all women – also were but Trump is only second generation American as we Scots know.

And his wife is not ‘from there’.

My point is that virtually no-one in the USA has a right to tell ANYONE in the USA to ‘go back to where they came from’ because virtually everyone in the USA technically came from somewhere else.

To make this sort of vile statement by the man who is custodian of the American constitution is reprehensible beyond belief.

The man is unfit for office.

He is unfit for inviting round to your house for dinner even.

I sincerely hope this makes the left wing of the Republican vote seriously consider whether they want to re-elect a man who has disrespected his country, his party, his wife, his Scottish Grandmother and, ultimately, himself.

 

 

Obama on the Gettysburg Address.


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Can you imagine Trump saying this in an interview with the New York Times in four years’ time?

[Obama: to Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for The New York Times.]

“I’d put the Second Inaugural up against any piece of American writing — as good as anything. One of the great treats of being president is, in the Lincoln Bedroom, there’s a copy of the Gettysburg Address handwritten by him, one of five copies he did for charity. And there have been times in the evening when I’d just walk over, because it’s right next to my office, my home office, and I just read it.”