Jonathan Coe's Middle England And Other Political Novels That Won't Make You Utterly Depressed About British Politics
By Alexandra Heminsley Posted on 5 Nov 2018
Who knew that Brexit had been going on for long enough now to get a proper fictional send up in print - and Jonathan Coe’s Modern England doesn’t disappoint. But Coe certainly isn’t the first writer to take on the political system - so here are four more books to take on when you want distracting from a our political climate right now where, let’s face it, fact is far stranger than fiction…
MIDDLE ENGLAND - Jonathan Coe (Viking)
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MIDDLE ENGLAND - Jonathan Coe (Viking)
So Brexit has been kicking around long enough for it to have its first proper state-of-the-nation novel. Mercifully for us its from the author of What a Carve Up!, and it’s every bit as good we might hope. Taking several characters of different ages and social and political persuasions - including a few familiar from his earlier novels such as The Rotters Club - it looks at their lives since the 2010 election and how they’ve responded. It will churn up all your political angst again, but Coe is as funny and tender as ever, restoring some humanity to the tumultuous societal backdrop.…and four other political novels which aren’t too depressing to read …
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Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell (Penguin Modern Classics)
Even if you had to read it at school under duress, it’s always worth taking a second look at Orwell, not just because he set the standard for political allegory but also because it’s so damn readable! Pithy, petite, and piercingly smart, Animal Farm sees a farmyard stage a revolution, overthrowing its lazy, boozy farmer and setting up again according to socialist ideals. Except of course leaders (the pigs!) reemerge, corruption sets in, and before they know it a new ruling class is leading the animals down a path just as dark as before. It’s a devastating look at communism, inspired by Stalinism.
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Capital - John Lanchester (Faber)
Set in 2008, over the months following the global financial crash, Capital takes one street in South West London and looks a the lives of its inhabitants - from the wealthy banker with his heavily enhanced home to the shop on the corner run by someone who was born in Lahore. The clever structure, combined with a sort of old fashioned storytelling, makes taking a look at London at large, and what the crash meant to the city and its people hugely satisfying. It feel like you’re reading something substantial but also manages to be quite gossipy at times.
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Marriage Material - Sathnam Sanghera (Penguin)
Arjan Banga moved to London as soon as he could, but now he’s back in Wolverhampton following the death of his father. Specifically, he’s back in the family corner shop, where he used to scamper as a child and from where he couldn’t get away fast enough as a teenager. Funny and insightful yet utterly conflicted, he makes the perfect vehicle through which to look at the immigrant experience of the 60s and 70s and the changes in the UK that followed. Sanghera writes with such warmth and humour that what could feel preachy is actually a cracking read.
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In A House of Lies - Ian Rankin (Orion)
Rebus is back, despite being retired, and once again he’s working on a case which seems like it is a simple whodunnit but actually cuts to the heart of the Edinburgh establishment. A single Ian Rankin novel is a great crime read, but what elevates his work is that - over 23 books - he has also written a fascinating social history of Scotland, specifically Edinburgh. As we follow Rebus’ career, we follow changes in politics, societal ideals and more complicated problems such as the use of social media in solving crimes. To read Rankin is a rewarding learning experience just as much as a page-turning pleasure.
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