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What a Carve Up! (Penguin Celebrations) [Paperback]

Jonathan Coe

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christie + Wodehouse + Waugh + Hitchens = A Great Novel Jan. 22 2008
By A. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
The shifting fortunes of England between WWII and the early 1990s is the subject of this broad, complex, genre-blending, scathing, and hilarious satire from one of Britain's best contemporary writers. The framework for this is a fictitious Yorkshire family, whose tentacles extend deeply into politics, media, and the corporate world. The Winshaws include: Arms dealer Mark, MP Henry, widely-read columnist Hilary, investment banker Thomas, art dealer Roddy, industrial poultry executive Dorothy, and institutionalized Tabitha. Struggling novelist Michael Owen is commissioned by Tabitha to write the family history, and in the course of his research, Owen comes to realize that the Winshaws are "wretched, lying, thieving, self-advancing" elites whose actions embody the decline of the country.

In a dizzying feat of narrative, we learn of the Winshaws' private and public lives, how they all intersect, and especially how intellectually and morally shallow they each are. For example, via Hilary, we see the rise of Murdoch-style tabloid journalism, via Thomas the insider trading scandals, and via Henry, the trainwreck of Tory/Thatcherite economic policies. But as if this wasn't enough to keep the reader's attention, the story also works in a mystery involving two mysterious deaths, and a strange running congruence to the 1961 comedy film What A Carve Up! The result is a whirlwind of genres, including old-fashioned Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, P.G. Wodehouse-style comic novel, Evelyn Waugh-style social satire, and Christopher Hitchens-style political polemic, all of which combine for a thoroughly entertaining read.

Some may find fault in Coe's ripe and vivid portrayal of this family of scoundrels, but it's entirely in keeping with the satiric and farcical tone of the work. More importantly, it's entirely in keeping with the political nature of the story, for this is that rarest of beasts, a thoroughly entertaining political novel. Coe unabashedly lays the blame for social woes at the feet of the businessmen (and women), politicians, and pundits who profited throughout the "greed is good" '80 and '90s as the poor grew poorer. And if anything, the twelve plus years since its publication only vindicate his selection of targets as -- at least in America -- we have experienced war based on politically-based lies, ever-increasing consolidation and dumbing down of the media, corporate fraud on a massive scale, bioengineering of food -- all of which are directly attacked in the novel. A wonderful novel, one well worth rereading every few years.

Note: Originally titled "What a Carve Up!" in the UK, the book was retitled as "The Winshaw Legacy" for the US.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite a Carving This! Nov. 28 2001
By SUBIR GHOSH - Published on Amazon.com
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!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars England Handbook Nov. 5 2013
By Laura - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I've been living in England for a year now and reading this novel was the funnyest and quickest way to understanding the social, political and psychological background of this countries' inhabitants.
5.0 out of 5 stars Monsters in disguise Jan. 15 2006
By A. T. A. Oliveira - Published on Amazon.com
Jonathan Coe's first book "The Winshaw Legacy, or What a Carve Up!" is a strange novel that from the beginning shows the reader he/she is not dealing with something ordinary. Part sociological study, part family chronicle and part an Agatha Christie mystery the book has something for everyone who is up to a good and smart prose.

In this novel Coe spans fifty years of politics and society in Britain creating memorable characters -- however nobody would want to have a Winshaw as a friend -- that stays with you long after you have finished his novel. Sociological component in "The Winshaw Legacy, or What a Carve Up!" is what every member of the family depicted in the book means. They are virtually linked to many aspects of England's culture, economy and politics. And they are always thinking only about themselves.

The family chronicles is the one written by Michael Owen, actually the main character of "The Winshaw Legacy, or What a Carve Up!", that is a writer hired by one member to writer a book about them. Needles to say that this book drives every Winshaw insane, since it is about to find many skeletons hidden in the family's closet, and Mr Owen to make lots of enemies.

But after more than 400 pages, Coe becomes a sort of Agatha Christie, killing mysteriously many Winshaw members. More than wondering who is doing it, the reader is interested in who will go next and how. The writer never loses his energy and the reader can only get more and more excited the close he/she gets to the end. And although some parts are predictable and undercooked, as a whole the novel is quite interesting and doesn't really let the reader down.

Coe's prose is easy and fast. He doesn't add too much depth to most characters, but it is not really a problem, since we are having so much fun. Early in the book someone says about the Winshaws that `they are not monsters (...). Not really'. But after finishing the book, one may wonder if it is true. Probably not, since it is a biased opinion once this sentence was spoken by one Winshaw to another.
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost great... Sept. 30 2013
By Richard Love - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read this book because The Times said it was his best work to date (in a review of his latest book), so I thought I'd give Coe a try.
It's a very unusual book...funny in parts, very satirical throughout, tilting at the values of 1980s/1990s UK right-wing values.
Story-wise, it's a series of short stores about each member of an extended well-to-do family that's involved in shady dealings in every industry from food to politics to arms dealing.
Coe is overly focused on coincidences and having all of the characters come together in a meaningful way so that so many events are bent and twisted too far to allow these coincidences to happen. I found myself engrossed in a storyline only to groan when a character from a previous chapter made an unlikely appearance.
The title of the book is also brought in repeatedly in such a heavy-handed way that it appears the author was "forcing" it to fit into various scenes. The title is a movie as well as parts of conversations and the grand finale of the book.
The writing style is very good and engaging. But, unless you're looking for a good satire, there are funnier books to read.

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