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What a Carve Up! (1994)

by Jonathan Coe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Winshaw Family (1)

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2,333546,612 (3.93)139
Michael is a lonely writer, obsessed by a film featuring a mad knifeman. When he is commissioned to write the family history of the Winshaws he realizes that the family have cast a blight on his life and he decides to take his revenge by re-enacting his favourite film. .
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» See also 139 mentions

English (36)  Italian (6)  French (4)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (2)  German (2)  All languages (53)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Really rather good, although what was satire 30 years ago is now sometimes obscure and most of the time just depressing, as we reflect on the decades of increasingly deliberate destruction of what was once society.

I prefer to read authors from their earliest novels onward, but I think with Coe I will now jump to his more recent material, as I think his satire might entertain me more when more relevant to my own era. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 21, 2024 |
Coe’s breakthrough novel, from 1994. A satire of the capitalist feeding-frenzy of the Thatcher era, built around plot devices that do affectionate homage to the conventions of mid-20th-century British cinema. The hapless writer Michael Owen, author of two forgotten novels, has been commissioned — chosen at random, as far as he knows — to write a book about the appalling Winshaw family, who have been making a fortune out of unethical business practices from the good old days of the North Atlantic slave trade right through to arms-to-Iraq.

There are a lot of good jokes in the book, but it felt over-long, and the satire is stretched rather too thin by Coe’s need to cover everything from privatisation and NHS asset-stripping to cynical tabloid journalism, merchant-banking (in both senses), the Brit-art industry, unscrupulous arms-dealing and the barbarity of the agri-food industry. Also, the nature of the book requires the Winshaws to be one-dimensional pantomime villains, and that rather undermines the message about how nasty the consequences of their activities are. The deliberately hackneyed and implausible débâcle in the final chapters is handled very nicely, however, but it is foreshadowed so far ahead that it feels as though we have to wait much too long to get to it.

It’s still worth reading this thirty years on, but Coe has grown up a lot as a writer since then, so it will be at least a slight disappointment if you know his more recent work. ( )
  thorold | Feb 19, 2024 |
Spanning 50 years of history from the Second World War to the first Gulf War, What a Carve Up! is novel writing on an epic scale. It’s often described as a satire on the Thatcherite era, but although published in 1994, this book could have been written yesterday. Corrupt, greedy and mendacious politicians, the undermining of public service broadcasting, the deregulation of television resulting in wall to wall mind rot, right-wing hacks churning out populist rubbish, an overstretched, underfunded and collapsing National Health Service. Sound familiar?

The monstrous Winshaw family represent the British ruling class, and the various strands of British society (banking, the arms trade, food production, journalism and the arts) and their hapless biographer Michael Owen, is the long suffering everyman.

The narrative is something of a carve up itself proceeding through diaries, newspaper articles, letters, first person and third person narrative. It takes its title, and part of its plot, from an early 60s lowbrow British comedy horror film and also draws on classic detective fiction (Christie, Conan Doyle) and the myth of Orpheus.

This playing around with form and foregrounding of the fictive might suggest the influence of an experimental novelist such as BS Johnson, about whom Coe wrote the spellbinding biography Like a Fiery Elephant, but there is a crucial difference. Johnson, believing that telling stories was telling lies, wrote autobiographical novels. Coe, in stark contrast, seamlessly weaves together the factual and the fictional, creating a rich, intricately plotted landscape, and triumphantly demonstrating that fiction can be a vessel for telling the truth.

Unlike the giggling celebrity comedians, mindlessly churning out toothless topical jokes to order on allegedly satirical TV and radio panel shows, Coe is a true satirist because he attacks society from a definite moral and philosophical viewpoint. At his best, and What a Carve Up! is certainly Coe at his best, he is as funny as any writer I have ever read, but his humour never betrays the seriousness of his subject matter. He never suggests that the inequities of society are just a laughing matter. The humour, some of it so hilariously broad it could have come from one of the 1970s sitcoms so loved by Coe (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin or The Likely Lads) is equally weighted with pain and tragedy. You’re crying with laughter one minute, and the next, just crying.

Coe is an admirer of Lindsay Anderson (If…. and O Lucky Man! remain two of the best films ever made about British society) and this novel has something of the anarchic energy, surreal comedy, righteous anger and necessary brio of that outstanding filmmaker.

In a well ordered society Jonathan Coe would have won the Booker Prize at least twice by now (for this novel and The Rotters Club). Astonishingly, he’s never even been nominated for it. Too political? Or perhaps he’s just too entertaining. ( )
  gpower61 | Feb 18, 2022 |
Hilarious, intricately crafted, and completely gripping.
A bunch of horrible conniving stereotypes shitbags all beautifully portrayed and beautifully desposed of.
Came out in the 90s but seems perfectly suited for today and all the crap of brexit Britain and the nazi-cheeto. I guess people don't change. ( )
1 vote mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
It's not always funny, so it's easy to forget it's intended to be a satire. In those times, I found myself wondering why everyone was an evil cartoon and why the political analysis of the Thatcher government was so shallow. But as long as you remember what it's supposed to be and suspend any seriousness, it's hard to dislike. The writing is excellent, and the final part is especially satisfying. ( )
2 vote sometimeunderwater | Jul 20, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (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)
 

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jonathan Coeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Pavans, JeanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
First words
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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Wikipedia in English (1)

Michael is a lonely writer, obsessed by a film featuring a mad knifeman. When he is commissioned to write the family history of the Winshaws he realizes that the family have cast a blight on his life and he decides to take his revenge by re-enacting his favourite film. .

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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...
Haiku summary
Michael biographe
D'une famille horrible. Il vit
à travers un film.
(Tiercelins)

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