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The Winshaw Legacy or What a Carve Up! (1994)

by Jonathan Coe

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English (31)  Italian (4)  French (3)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  All (44)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
Final third of the book was strangely unsatisfying especially the conclusion. ( )
  syllabub | Sep 20, 2016 |
“The upshot was that she lost her religion - with a vengeance - and walked out on him, taking these three daughters with her. Faith, Hope and Brenda.”

In 1961 author-narrator Michael Owen is taken to watch the film 'What a Carve Up!'on a birthday outing to Weston-Super- Mare. His mother decided the film was unsuitable for a nine- year-old boy so he was taken from the cinema halfway through. From that day on Michael has been haunted by unfinished stories and obsessed by the image of the film's star, Shirley Eaton.

Jump forward to the summer of 1990, and Michael, a novelist of minor repute, has just resumed work upon the official biography of the Winshaw family whose riches have been founded on 'every manner of swindling, forgery, larceny, robbery, thievery, trickery, jiggery-pokery, hanky-panky, plundering, looting, sacking, misappropriation, spoliation and embezzlement'. Michael had become disillusioned with his commission and demoralised by the Winshaws' themselves in the mid-80s but is jolted back into action by his friendly and sympathetic neighbour, Fiona.

The Winshaws are a thoroughly unsavoury bunch. Roddy, the art dealer who uses his influence to seduce aspiring female artists; Mark is an the arms dealer who is supplying Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein; Dorothy, pioneering the latest in battery farm and slaughterhouse efficiency; Thomas, the merchant banker; Henry, a turncoat MP who seems to be set on dismantling the NHS and Hilary, a tabloid columnist with a large readership. These characters are therefore caricatures of the greed and self-interest of the time.

As Michael re- emerges from him hiatus his research into the book he realises that the Winshaw family increasingly impinges on his own destiny and begins to take on a pretty sinister slant.
Without wanting to give the ending away the Winshaw family begin to get their comeuppance there is a final sting in the tale.

The Winshaws seem to be depicted as cartoonish in their wickedness yet Coe still manages to establish a sense of believability in to the reader about them. Whilst in contrast through the nerdish, introverted Michael some pretty big themes; love, greed, loneliness, regret to name but a few are introduced in to the plot. Overall whilst I may not have laughed out loud it did make me smile at times and as such I found this a fairly compelling read which perhaps deserves a greater readership. However, I'm not sure that the subject matter itself will stands the test of time. In many respects that's to say I hope that they don't. ( )
3 vote PilgrimJess | Feb 23, 2016 |
This novel concerns the political and social environment in Britain during the 1980s, and covers the period up to the beginning of aerial bombardment against Iraq in the first Gulf War in January 1991. Jonathan Coe has developed a unique family of characters for this satirical novel filled lots of humor, murder and mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more of Coe's novels. ( )
  EadieB | Jan 19, 2016 |
I think that this may well prove to be Jonathan Coe's masterpiece. Through the device of describing the ignominious behaviour in different fields of various members of the ghastly Winshaw family, Coe paints a frighteningly acute picture of the downside of the latter third of the post-war years in general, and the 1980s in particular. The spectre of the 'First' Gulf War hangs over the whole book.

The Winshaws certainly extended their fingers into a number of diverse pies, with family members prominent in the fields of politics, merchant banking, journalism and broadcasting. There are, however, some vitriolic internal rifts, too.

Tabitha Winshaw has been immured in a succession of mental hospitals after she became convinced that her eldest brother Laurence had been responsible for the death of their brother Godfrey. Such was the depth of her conviction of Laurence's guilt that she had tried to kill him in turn. Godfrey Winshaw, had, in fact, been shot down while serving as a pilot in the RAF, so most of the family had dismissed Tabitha's claims without further consideration. As the rest of the family thrive during the 1960s. 1970s and 1980s, Tabitha spends long periods in seclusion in a series of institutions before being allowed to return to the family home following Laurence's eventual death (from natural causes).
Tabitha retains access to her sizeable portion of the seemingly inexhaustible family fortune, and commissions a vanity publishing house to hire an author to write a history of the Winshaw family. The publisher selects Michael Owen. Early in his career he had published a couple of well received novels but had sunk into prolong accidie. Now in his thirties the commission for the history of the Winshaws is almost his sole source of income apart from the occasional vindictive review.

The novel takes the form of accounts of he careers of various Winshaws (presumably drawn from Michael's book), interspersed with first person narrative from Michael recounting different periods of his own unorthodox past. One of these memoirs tells of his ninth birthday which involved a family trip to Weston Super Mare where, seeking refuge from dreadful weather, they all went to see the film 'What a Carve Up' starring Kenneth Connor and Shirley Eaton. One scene in particular is etched in the young Michael's mind, not least because, deeming the film unsuitable for a nine year old boy, his mother insists that the family leave immediately. This scene become a major obsession with Michael, and contributes in part to his aimless and listless approach to life as an adult.

The separate accounts of the careers of the individual Winshaws offer Coe an acute prism through which to dissect the paradoxes and shortcomings of modern life. Hilary Winshaw becomes a leading tabloid columnist, distilling hatred and spewing venom like Sybil Fawlty's 'Benzedrine puff adder', never happier than when seemingly contradicting an earlier column with a shameless, opportunistic volte-face. Henry Winshaw is a politician who, having started out as a Labour MP, becomes, upon his departure from The House, an ardent Thatcherite, overseeing the development of her programme of privatisation and with plans to dismantle, or at least privatise, the National Health Service. Thomas Winshaw becomes the director of Stewards merchant bank, benefiting from inside information passed on from Henry. Mark Winshaw, Godfrey's son, becomes an accomplished arms dealer, adept at sidestepping the regulatory obstacles to dealing with the likes of Saddam Hussein and other, similar despots. The Winshaws' world is a ghastly place, and Michael becomes increasingly appalled as he learns more about their respective enormities. ( )
1 vote Eyejaybee | Nov 26, 2015 |
Probably Coe's most savagely entertaining satire, this is a dissection of the morals and attitudes of Thatcher's Britain, in which the villains are all part of the same family (Kind Hearts and Coronets style). ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
What a Carve Up! is strewn with surprises, not the least of them Coe's ability to meld private concerns with political catastrophe. He has written a book that counts the human cost of the self-help, screw-you philosophy currently at large, but the sound it makes is not of tubs being thumped or hands being wrung - it's the raucous and far more apposite sound of horrid laughter.
added by Nickelini | editthe Independent, Anthony Quinn (Apr 24, 1994)
 
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Epigraph
Orphee: Enfin, Madame . . . m'expliquerez-vous?
La Princesse: Rien. Si vous dormez, si vous revez, acceptez vos reves. C'est le role du dormeur.
- Cocteau's screenplay to Orphee
'Meet me,' he'd said and forgotten
'Love me': but of love we are frightened
We'd rather leave and fly for the moon
Than say the eight words to soon
- Louis Philippe, Yuri Gagarin
Dedication
For 1994, Janine
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Tragedy had struck the Winshaws twice before, but never on such a terrible scale.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
When made Aunt Tabitha Winshaw engages Michael Owen to write a history of the Winshaw family, he uncovers a trail of back-stabbing and deceit that leads from World War II to the get-rich-quick era of the 1980s. There is sin and scandal galore, but Michael is bothered by events that remind him of a haunting film from his childhood - particularly the gory ending...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140294562, Paperback)

'Big, hilarious, intricate, furious, moving' - "Guardian". Telling the stories of the wealthy Winshaw family, "What A Carve Up!" is a riveting social satire on the chattering and all-powerful upper classes.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:46 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

A social satire on Britain today. The narrator is a writer hired to do the biography of a prominent upper-class family. In the process, he finds the family represents everything that is wrong with the country, from Hilary, the yellow journalist, to Thomas, the inside trader, to Henry, the hypocritical medicare reformer, and so up and down the family tree.… (more)

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