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The Winshaw Legacy: or, What a Carve Up! [Paperback]

Jonathan Coe
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 3 1996 Vintage International
If Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie had ever managed to collaborate, they might have produced this shamelessly entertaining novel, which introduces readers to what may be the most powerful family in England--and is certainly the vilest. A tour de force of menace, malicious comedy, and torrential social bile, this book marks the American debut of an extraordinary writer.

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From Publishers Weekly

In this patchily entertaining postmodern pastiche of class warfare, Coe places Michael Owen, a burnt-out middle-class writer, as the family chronicler of the Winshaws, an upper-class British dynasty involved in everything wrong with modern England: television and tabloid journalism (Hilary, the hack); Thatcherite politics and National Health Service Reform (Henry, the back-stabber); industrialized agriculture (the beastly Dorothy); insider stock trading (Thomas, the voyeur); and arms dealing with Iraq (the callous Mark). Coe's contemporary vile bodies are not only utterly unprincipled, greedy and philistine, but their presentation is uninspired and unamusing as well, contracting these issues down to a distinctly parochial dimension. Sandwiching their corrupt stories is an intricate comic plot out of the murder-at-the-manor genre, weirdly reflected in Owen's obsession with an old movie in which he is convinced he stars and which determines his fate. Coe's dry, deflating Midlands sense of humor infrequently rises above the episodes of scrupulously didactic satire and works well with the more quotidian social ills, such as telly-addiction and the unending waits in NHS hospitals. The narrative becomes more interesting toward the end, when Coe gets around to murdering a number of his characters, but since they never become quite real in the first place, the reader doesn't really care. A story closer to this mundane Britain of post-Thatcher disaffection would have been more welcome for his American debut than agitprop Waugh-mongering.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In this mordant satire of 1980s greed, a seemingly chance encounter with an employee of a vanity press lands well-reviewed if little-read novelist Michael Owen a commission to write the history of a powerful British family named the Winshaws. The Winshaws have made their mark in every area of British life. Harry is a member of Parliament, Hilary writes a popular newspaper column, Dorothy runs the nation's largest slaughterhouse, Thomas is a merchant banker, Roddy is a London art dealer, and Mark is an arms dealer supplying Saddam Hussein. Yet, as Owen soons discovers, their wealth and power are matched by their shallowness and moral vacuity. Coe stirs elements of the Gothic, detective, and comic genres into a wildly funny, ultimately frightening mix. Though occasionally didactic, this work is nonetheless a tour-de-force-and a delight to read.
Lawrence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Satire Growing More Relevant July 20 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Some reviewers criticise "What A Carve Up!" for over-the-top satire, cartoonish portrayals of purely evil characters, and shrill polemic style. I got to the book in America in July, 2002, and while I agree that the bad guys are dealt with simplistically, the treatment may not be so far off the mark. Ten years after Coe researched this book, all his issues remain in the headlines. The West is gearing up again to topple the monster we created and armed in Saddam Hussein. Agribusiness conglomerates have devastated what remained of small farm America, brought other trouble to the towns where their enormous operations brutalise the workers and animals; and people only wonder more about the ever-increasing hormone and feed treatments used to make our food. Anyone who tunes in to certain American TV and radio networks, or reads certain columnists, will notice that right wing politicians and pundits have gone on to perfect the demonically dishonest rhetorical style Coe goes after (particularly on pp 137-138, 63-64, 385-88, 313 of the paperback edition titled "The Winshaw Legacy").
As for the charge that Coe unfairly makes greed out to be a bad thing, what Thomas Winshaw does to Phocas Motor Services in the book (pp 322-24 of my edition) was played out in many much worse factual scenarios that I know of in the US throughout the 1980's. (Look at what US Steel did to southeast Chicago, for starters.) And his analysis of this sort of capitalism couldn't be any more relevant with all the short-sighted and criminally dishonest market manipulations by politically connected that are coming to light Stateside in 2002 (Enron, Harken, Halliburton, Dynegy, Worldcom, Global Crossing, Adelphia...).
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5.0 out of 5 stars A truly political novel July 10 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is the first Coe book I've read and I loved it. It's funny and clever, develops the plot in a fragmented, looping chronology with multiple perspectives, sources, and interlocking stories - all presided over by a very unhappy and frustrated lead narrator. You know, the sort of things you find in Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, and Will Self novels (and seemingly all serious films since at least 'Pulp Fiction'). But it is more straightforward, with less literary ambition, or pretension, than what I've read from those authors. The story is much easier to follow, and one can say exactly what happens at the end, rather than speculating on the desultory and stridently ambiguous finishes those other authors frequently give us.
The unfashionable clarity is a result of the book's overt politics. I find that Amis and Self bury their political commentary in stories that focus on how tormented their characters feel by the unexplained vagaries of life and how irreversibly complex it's all become. Coe, on the other hand, is willing to identify and blame the forces that have made society such a mess and living so hard to figure out. It's not some Fat Controller with supernatural powers, nor a mysterious seeming-friend doing improbable things with the money system to play out a personal grudge. It's right-wing politicians and businesses who, among other things: control our news sources and fill them with meaningless gossip or misleading agitprop, stoke up wars and profit on arms sales, industrialise food production at the expense of the ecology and consumer health, and intentionally ruin our public services to serve their theological devotion to laissez faire economics.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very amusing Jan. 27 2002
Format:Paperback
This was the funniest book that I've read in several years. When finished, I immediately bought his other books.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Quite a Carving This! Nov. 30 2001
Format:Paperback
Jonathan Coe was born in 1961. The film "What a Carve Up!" (aka "No Place Like Homicide") was released the same year. Thirty-four years later, Coe published this book of the same name. The US prints are titled "The Winshaw Legacy." Is Coe's book the story of the film? Yes and No. The film is just a character in the story. The film and the story get bizarrely intertwined towards the end.
Coe carves up quite a story here, but it's not the dainty carving of a romantic sculptor. It's the irreverent slash of the nonconformist knife. It's the wayward chiselling away by the postmodernist pen. Out of these strokes emerges a story that takes stereotypes to an absurd level. Yet the absurdity doesn't offend your intelligence. It's as if the author signs an invisible pact with the reader: "Yes, you know it's exaggerated, so do I, but what the heck!"
The Winshaws represent a bunch of opportunist parasites who have checked into the world without the baggage of conscience. A columnist who generates mindless trash endlessly, an art dealer who sells fame for sex, a merchant banker with a morbid voyeuristic streak, a livestock farmer whose way of dealing with economically unviable male chicks is to put them in a mill "capable of mincing 1000 chicks to pulp every two minutes" or to gas them with chloroform or carbon dioxide... you'll find the worst imaginable faces of post-War England here, caricatured to contortion beyond recognition. Each chapter is a peep at the plot from a different angle. The principal narrator is a young writer called Michael Owen who is commissioned to write a biography of the Winshaw family. Most divergent outlooks mingle and collide and so do the characters in ways stranger than fiction, culminating in a kind of nemesis any deus ex machina would stay away from.
"What a Carve Up!" is a wild cocktail. Cheers!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A Multi-layered Tale About Greed and One Heckuva Mystery
Jonathan Coe's "The Winshaw Legacy" is a multifaceted, occasionally humorous, often touching, and insightful tale about greed and its consequences. Read more
Published on Nov. 27 2001 by JD Cetola
5.0 out of 5 stars What a corker
This is one of those books that I put off reading for years, despite the fact that countless people recommended it. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2001 by peter wild
5.0 out of 5 stars What a Carve Up! You Really Have to Read This Book
It is really an excellent novel. Jonathan Coe provides a unique description of the after-war British society. Read more
Published on Aug. 16 2001 by Loukas Spanos
5.0 out of 5 stars Wicked funny black comedy : best in its genre
Jonathan Coe's "The Winshaw Legacy" is a wickedly funny black comedy of the very first order. It's a satire which lampoons the "greed is good" ethics of Thatcherite England using a... Read more
Published on July 29 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars A rarity - a truly political novel
"What A Carve Up" is poignant, comical and very entertaining. A searing piece of polemic, Coe's portrayal of the unscrupulous and wholly despicable Winshaw clan enables... Read more
Published on April 7 2001 by Gordon Neill
4.0 out of 5 stars Watch Out...
Jonathan Coe has been favourably compared to Charles Dickens and it's not hard to see why. The classic Dickensian markers - a huge cast of characters, the use of foreshadowing, the... Read more
Published on Dec 25 2000 by vortexreader
5.0 out of 5 stars Abs FAB, man! PICK IT UP!
A patheon of gargoyles for characters, each killed off in ways they are truly deserving ............ Read more
Published on Aug. 1 2000 by Tatyana AMIN
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Satire on Thatcherite Britain
This is a brilliant and hilarious dissection of the social and political landscape of Britain in the self serving 1980's. Read more
Published on May 25 2000 by "saitchy"
5.0 out of 5 stars Gothic social satire
Re-reading the final chapters of the book last night I realised they read much as a short story would. Read more
Published on May 12 2000 by S. Maruta
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