- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Intl edition (Jan. 3 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679754059
- ISBN-13: 978-0679754053
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.5 x 20.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #296,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Winshaw Legacy: or, What a Carve Up! Paperback – Jan 3 1996
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About the Author
Born in Birmingham in 1961, Jonathan Coe took degrees from Cambridge and Warwick universities. He lives in London.
Top customer reviews
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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...). Think of the havoc that these scandals have brought to individual lives among employees and fundholders who counted on these 'businessmen' - really a network of interconnected charlatans - to be running sustainable companies, not inflating the value of their options to whatever unsustainable level would maximise their personal wealth. Lack of subtlety should be the last criticism pinned on someone who addresses this sort of outrage head-on.
In short, you don't need to be British to get this book, not even to appreciate the parts devoted to the National Health Service. The points he makes are just as relevant to what's happened in America under Reagan and Bushes I and II. I agree with the critcism that Coe panders to upper-class resentment by attributing all these various corruptions to one aristocratic family, when it's untitled corporate conservatives throughout society who need blaming. But he is doing a satire, and the aristocratic trope serves as the novel's framing device.
Coe divides his novel into two parts (after a brief prologue detailing two tragic events involving the Winshaws (one during WWII and the other in 1961--the novel essentially runs from 1940 to 1990 and is set in Yorkshire and London)). Part One alternates between the engaging first person narrative of Michael Owen (a novelist who's lost inspiration and stopped communicating with humankind for 2-3 years, one of the intriguing mysteries in this novel) who has been tapped by Tabitha Winshaw (the only putatively insane family member to be committed) to write the Winshaw Memoirs and a third person narration detailing the lives of the third generation Winshaws.
Owen's narration is full of mystery and wonder. Why has he essentially withdrawn from society the last three years? What exactly does he have to do with the Winshaws? How is it all going to end? And what does a movie he saw as a child have to do with the Winshaws (you'll find out)? As if all this isn't enough, Coe throws in a very touching encounter with one of Owen's neighbors (the well-drawn Fiona) who finally draws Owen out of his torpor. This is engaging stuff, although not as humorous as expected.
The chapters detailing the lives of third generation Winshaws are equally captivating. Coe cleverly mixes real world events and personalities (Margaret Thatcher and Saddam Hussein for two) with the greedthristy Winshaws to detail the depraved nature of his powerful antagonists. Whether it's politics, gossip, bio-agriculture, illegal arms dealing, or shady financial dealing, these six Winshaws are painted (in one instance, literally) in a rather unpleasant shade of greed and amorality. And all the while hanging over these details is the mystery of the first two tragic events from the prologue (the death of one Winshaw in 1942 and the death of an intruder at Winshaw Towers in 1961).
Part Two of Coe's novel is a rollercoaster of a finish and provides the solution to the many mysteries that have evolved throughout the novel as well as a tragic, over-the-top conclusion. Coe may have overstepped the bounds a little with the ending (there is a lot going on in this novel) as one mystery is unraveled after another and the events leading up to the novel's conclusion occur with headspinning rapidity.
"The Winshaw Legacy" is an entertaining read and contains some terrific writing and commentary on greed and its consequences. It's not as humorous as I expected and much more touching and trenchant than I would have guessed. Overall, a worthy read and highly recommended.
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