Jonathan Coe – Number 11

Number 11

My favourite book of all time is Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! (here’s the review:…) after I read House of Sleep and The Rotter’s Club. Stupidly I stopped reading Jonathan Coe after that.

Then last year I came across Number 11 in a book sale. It was selling for 5 euro so I bought it, however due to my system the book came up and I read it, curious if Coe had lost his spark.

He hasn’t

Number 11 is a sort of sequel to What a Carve Up!: the novel deals with the corrupt nature of politics, the manipulative aspect of media and how people are badly affected by the decisions taken by the upper classes.

The book consists of a series of interconnected stories, all linked by the Winshaws, who made their first appearance in What a Carve Up! AND that book is self referenced a couple of times as well, a lot of the main characters in this novel reappear in some of the stories as well. Thus detail and destinies cross and entwine themselves; a literary technique I’m fond of, hence the five stars.

One thing I admire about Coe is how he can mix and mash different genres with fluidity. Number 11 contains elements of mystery, horror, drama and comedy, not to mention the plethora of artists and directors he name drops. In other words this makes it a fun book to read.

If you haven’t read …Carve Up! no worries as Number 11 holds up on its own BUT enjoyment of the book is enriched if the first part of this novel is read.

Book 888 Jonathan Coe – What a Carve up!

Back in 1997 ,  I was hooked to Radiohead’s OK Computer, an album which focused on society’s fixation with computer technology , pre-millennial angst and the changing political system of Britain. I was 18 at the time and Thom Yorke’s lyrics meant a lot to me during that time. However there’s one song called Fitter, Happier where a computerized voice is detailing a sort of horrific future wasteland and I was always puzzled about the words. (Fitter, Happier)

Upon some research I found out that Fitter Happier was influenced by the book What a Carve up!.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and I’m in a used bookstore stocking up (back then I’d buy about ten novels and they’d last a few weeks) and I come across the book What a Carve up!. I momentarily drift back to 1997 and buy the book.

I read it in a couple of days, I am amazed and it becomes my favourite book of all time.

I also have reread it twice and both times I felt just as satisfied so it definitely is number one.

Michael Owen has to write a biography about a corrupt politically connected family called the Winshaws. In the process of unearthing the family’s secrets he comes across a sinister world of soft porn, brutal agricultural practices, illegal arms trade, and filthy political dealings. To top it off there’s also a murder and the culprit is one of the family members!

Eventually Michael starts to unhealthily become obsessed by this biography and ends up going completely  insane as he becomes unable to distinguish his own life and the Winshaws plus he discovers some unhealthy secrets about his own family and their connection to this nasty lot . Oh yes there’s an ending straight out of a looney tunes cartoon and it’s brilliantly executed.

What I liked about this book is that Coe stuffs every single genre he can think of and make it accessible. Writing wise you would say that the style is no different from Nick Hornby, even the romantic bits could have been written by Hornby.  Within these 500 pages the reader experiences a lot genre styles ranging from murder mystery , thriller, the aforementioned pulpy romance, bawdy comedy, schlocky horror and the ever-present knife sharp (no pun intended) satire.

This is what the novel is about, Coe has attempted to attack everything that was wrong about Thatcher’s Britain and he succeeds fully and despite all the gruesome bits it is a genuinely funny novel.

Reading What a Carve up! is nothing short of the ultimate literary experience. All of your senses will be attacked and many images planted in your brain. It is a book that resonates for a long time, and yes do read it before you die!.