A topical novel, with the added bonus of a potted history of Cadburys and lots of references to chocolate!
Humourous, moving and thought
provoking, often on the same page.
A good read indeed.
This was a bit slow for me, jumping from time line to time line- a multi generational tale explored through seven events from VE Day through to Covid. It’s hard to get behind the characters with this approach. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
Another great novel by Jonathan Coe. He creates a family of four generations in this novel that spans over 77 years, closely connected to the Cadbury chocolate factory in Bournville just outside Birmingham. Coe is amatsre in showing how we all are a part of history and in telling us about the state of the English nation.
My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books for a copy of “ Bournville “ for an honest review.
I hadn’t read anything by Jonathan Coe before , but I was drawn to read this book as I live near to Birmingham and have visited Bournville village a few times.
I was hooked from the start ! It was a really engrossing family saga spanning from 75 years , and covering memorable events , up to the impact of COVID.
I really enjoyed the style of writing and the humour mixed with poignancy . The ending brought me close to tears.
I could imagine this being made into a really successful tv series.and I’ve now got a copy of “ Middle England” to read and hope it’s as good as this novel is
I loved "Middle England", and "Bournville" goes in the same direction, only with an even more sweeping view of the English soul from WW II to Covid-19. Mixing the timelines and narrators gives the whole story a more dynamic feel and as always, Coe is a master of the subtle humour, imbedded in true emotions and masterfully created characters.
Being from Vienna I had to chuckle on the first pages, set in Vienna shortly before the first lock-down in March 2020, complete with toilet paper hoarding, and after completing the book I now know why I can't buy Cadbury's chocolate anywhere in the EU.
This book reminded me of why Jonathan Coe is one of my favourite modern authors as he takes us on a thoughtful journey through Britain’s postwar years as experienced by Mary and her family. I love his state of the UK novels and his ability to demonstrate the personal impact of national events on ordinary people. As a contemporary of Coe’s growing up in the West Midlands during the sixties and seventies, many of his characters’ experiences really resonate with me and I can attest to the ingrained racism of the period, which may no longer be as explicit, but still permeates our national identity. ‘Bournville’ is cleverly structured around seven landmark national events that take us from VE Day to its 75th anniversary. In this time, we see the character of Mary develop from a socially awkward child into a much loved matriarch. We really get to know her and share her sons’ grief at her isolated death during the pandemic. A favourite theme of mine that is well explored in ‘Bournville’ is our absurd sense of kinship with the Royal Family.
At times, the social commentary around the events felt like I was reading Alwyn Turner and, apart from the explanation of the chocolate wars, was largely unnecessary. I also found it helpful to refer to the family tree that I accessed via Coe’s Twitter feed to remind me of the links with his other novels. Having said that, ‘Bournville’ works perfectly as a standalone novel and I am hopeful that, in future, Coe will turn his attention to the chaotic events of the past year that lend themselves to his ruminative satire.
I preferred this to Middle England which, personally, I struggled with. I do find some of the politics a little overt and un-nuanced, but this was a sympathetic exploration of a community that has a lot to teach us in 2023.
Readers coming to Bournville expecting to learn much about the city itself may be disappointed - although the book works well as a "State of the Nation '' novel. This is also the story of one family, over the 75 year lifespan of Mary, the matriarch, and the changes in lifestyles and social attitudes over that period of time.
The writing felt a bit sluggish in some parts but frequently amusing in others. There are some great little set pieces pinning the family's story to the significant events of each period of time and thankfully these lift the novel to the level of Coe's previous works. I would have liked to have seen a bit more character development - it seemed that the progression of many of the significant characters got a little lost in the gaps between each chapter.
The politics of chocolate stood out as a fascinating segment of British history highlighting the difficulties, frustrations and often absurdities of international trade. It also seems that Coe enjoyed writing his portrayal of Boris Johnson's career in journalism reflecting his particular haphazard style, more recently, in politics.
I haven't read Middle England yet to compare but I didn't find Bournville as entertaining as Mr Wilder and Me or The Rain Before it Falls.
Many thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for this review copy.
This is a saga of a family told over many decades. It uses some of the main events in the UK, (world cup, queen's jubilee etc). I was excited to read this as it was set in Bournville and I had seen a lot about Jonathan Coe's Middle England. I had fond memories of reading a book with Bournville as a setting 15 years ago.
I was disappointed. Bournville barely featured, there were so many characters and different events, that there was little space for any depth and as a result didn't leave me with any affinity for the characters. I did like the points in time chosen, and the events described but felt like I was watching a cheap version of the Crown.
I enjoyed first half of the book as I thought it was building up to something, but it didn't so it was a laborious read in the end.
I love Jonathan Coe as an author and this did not disappoint. The main setting is of course Bournville in the shadow of the Cadbury factory but it tells the story or the area and the people who live there over the past few decades. We see war time to lockdown and major moments in British history in between. The characterisation is vivid and the reader gets to know whole families over generations and their loves and losses. Thanks to the author, publisher and netgalley for my arc.
An absolutely excellent, engaging, emotional read. Can be read as a stand alone book but particularly satisfying when read after Middle England. This is British family saga at its best.
I didn’t enjoy the intro and the covid pandemic element of it so unfortunately couldn’t finish this one.
Starting, in quite clumsy-seeming fashion, with a Covid-inf(l)ected prologue, before flashing back to VE day, this doesn't always seem like a major novel, not even in this author's oeuvre. However when you get the gist of what it's about it's got things to say, and some entertaining ways to say them. It also has nailed the timing, almost as if it was finished a couple of years ago, and primed ready for the green light to be struck.
This is a look at one family, starting in the new-fangled Bournville factory workers' village, replete as it was with staff swimming pools, activities and amenities for furthering and keeping happy the labour force there while all our luscious British chocolate was being made. It definitely has a space for discussing class – the fact one TV almost groans in complaint when turned from BBC1 to ITV is the most obvious and yet most memorably correct detail that comes to mind. It has an intention of giving us a survey of the last sixty years of Anglo-European relationships, from VE Day to the 1966 World Cup Final and through to Brexit and the start of lockdowns for the musicians seen in the prologue. And it also – and this is where the scheduling freakery comes in – wants to discuss the ongoing status of the Royal family.
The seven chunks of this are hit and miss, but do pretty much all swing on Royal events (even ones as lowly-seeming as Prince Charles being made Prince of Wales). Even when they're not specific royal dates in our minds the Windsors are mentioned – while someone is able to opine our Royal family has yet to lost its German blood, someone else is aware of the pure English gallantry that allowed the Cup-winning captain to wipe his hand before shaking Elizabeth's, something the West German opponent would never have thought of.
Of course with the lead-in times of novels like this it's pure chance this has all its Republican characters given a soap-box within months of the Queen passing, but this loses nothing for that. It's just that looking back at the start of the coronasniffles with such hindsight is really quite yawnsome, the world cries out for yet another middle-aged white person's post-Brexit, post-BoJo novel like it needs to collide with the moon, and it's not until the third chunk here, concerning the Queen's coronation and the birth of the TV viewer, that we get anything approaching this author's regular comedic success.
Some of that comedy certainly comes from something else in the book's remit – to point out that we all have a racist in our family, just a generation or two away, if that. And little has been done along the lines of 'fictional social history through characters' opinions on James Bond' before, surely. But as I say, I do think this – like a host of other books – misjudges the entertainment value in narrating the Covid years, and the double whammy of that and Brexit tainting the political bias of these proceedings certainly makes for a much less enjoyable read than I'd have expected.
Many thanx to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for allowing me to read and review this book.
Looked forward to reading this book but quickly became a little bored with the introduction which seemed to go on for ever!!
Plodded through most of the book but was not what I expected and did not meet my expectations. Can only award 1 star
I loved this book !
I’m a huge fan of Coe and I think this one could be his best. It’s a very ‘ British Book’ and is also a sort of history lesson in a novel , would make an excellent book club read or even one to discuss in a classroom.
A family saga spanning 75 years , it’s history seen through the eyes of normal people . We go back to VE Day 1945, the Queen’s coronation , 1966 World Cup and more recent events like Boris, Brexit and covid .
It’s full of nostalgia, wit , humour but also sadness and reality . It took me right back to where I was when I heard of Princess Diana’s death. I cannot recommend this one enough and this would make a brilliant tv series .
Bournville opens with a musician in Germany during the beginning of the pandemic. She calls her grandmother, Mary, in Birmingham to discuss the pandemic. The novel then takes us back to VE Day and Mary as a child and we follow her and her families life through the post war years to modern times. The family grows up in Bournville and the Cadburys factory appears a number of times in the novel. The Quaker values of the Cadbury family represent a different type of capitalism where a village is created for the workers at the chocolate factory.
When the novel gets more up to date, lurking in the background is a privileged Etonian, a second rate journalist writing amusing columns about the European Union with only a passing interest in the truth. How did this journalist with such a cavalier attitude to the truth end up as the prime minister of this country. When the pandemic strikes we have a prime minister who doesn’t care about the truth and doesn’t think the rules apply to him.
The book is very personal as the author uses locations familiar to him and experiences of his own life with the loss of his mother during the pandemic.
I highly recommend this ambitious state of the nation novel that was a delight to read.
Thank you to Netgalley for a pre publication copy. In return for an honest review! #bourneville #netgalley
Lorna is a musician in the 21st century and her family member decides to complete their family tree. You in turn follow the family, who originate in Bourneville, through the ages from the war right through until the 21st century. Including many events which are of huge historical significance including The coronation, covid 19 and Royal weddings and many more.
I, for some reason, am drawn to the history of Bourneville both the village and the factory. It being somewhere I've visited before and enjoy learning about social history. Therefore when I saw this title I knew i must read it.
I really enjoyed following the journey of Bourneville and how the village families come together and celebrant the important times. A lot of which has been lost in the 21st century. It was a joy to feel a part of these significant historical events which I wasn't around for the first time.
Although I did find the epilogue left me slightly confused right up until its last page of how the characters actually had anything to do with the synopsis which focused on the historical aspect of the book. Although that last page of the epilogue summed it up in a sentence making you feel like the epilogue was really just an extra which wasnt necessarily needed.
Furthermore their are a lot of characters to keep track of. They all have their part in the events which occur and the community feeling. However sometimes you get slightly confused of where you've heard the name before and which context of the book this was in. Then something will trigger your memory and you'll realise who and where they are from.
I found this book very difficult to give a star review. I really enjoyed the events which occurred and how they are represented in the book. However I got slightly confused with the epilogue and the many characters which are thrown in in the chapters. Therefore I have given it 3.5 Stars as opposed to a solid amount of stars.
Bournville is a story that, for me, works at so many levels. It’s a well constructed family saga, set as the title suggests in the Bournville area of Birmingham. It’s not an area I know, but I was aware of the background to the development of housing and community around the chocolate factory and these threads run through the story. The characters feel real and I was happy to invest emotional energy in what was going on. The tale is taken to a different level as key events in r3cent social history shape both the characters and the plotting. They also provide a deeper narrative about the way Britain is changing and how people are affected by Westminster.
This is, in many ways, a state of the nation as seen through ordinary eyes. The final part was particularly poignant as Covid constraints left multiple thousands isolated and alone at a time when they truly needed family support. I think Coe is easy to underestimate. His writing is simple and his characters are ones we are all likely to know or meet. But he makes them relevant a takes the ordinary up to another level allowing social commentary without it becoming a diatribe. Clever and thoughtful and I really enjoyed this.
My thanks to the publisher for a review copy via Netgalley.
This was an engaging journey through the lives of a group of people seen through a series of cultural events, mainly related to the royal family. A shame, then, that the book was written before the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, which would have rounded off the family's connection with significant events in the country and the demise of the key players in the novel. Having lived through many of the experiences, I found the different times and settings familiar and credible, although some were occasionally over-explained in a rather didactic way, particularly details about the Bournville factory. However the family saga was well charted through the generations, coming almost up to date with frustrations from the Covid restrictions. A thoroughly readable and enjoyable read!
There are certain books that tie you into the characters, get you invested in them, then twist the knife until you could sob. I remember A.S. Byatt doing that with “The Children’s Book” and Larry McMurtry doing it recently with “Some Can Whistle“. Coe certainly does it here, too.
The conceit is a simple one – take an ordinary family in a Birmingham suburb and visit and revisit them at pivotal post-war moments in England – and is here in the hands of a master, who ramps up the relationships and characters, starting with a woman musician and her playing partner experiencing the beginning of the Covid lockdowns in Europe as they try to do a concert tour and returning to them post-pandemic in a heart-wrenching epilogue. In between, we’re moved expertly through VE Day, the Coronation and the World Cup Final to Princess Diana’s funeral, and the 75th anniversary of VE Day, following Mary from a child to an old woman with a looming health condition and the spreading family she engenders. There’s also an email mentioned near the start that we only read near the end, little Iris Murdochian doublings (one character reads the children’s cartoons in his paper; decades later another watches them on TV; two women stand in the doorway of one house, decades apart, hearing the noise of schoolchildren), a sub-plot that surprises and mentions of a favourite character from another set of novels, and sections of the novel are in different formats, reports or lockdown instructions: all very clever but not too clever-clever.
Of course there’s lots for me in terms of local colour – I was particularly pleased to see the little boating lake I love to run to and around mentioned, and there’s an excellent discussion in a restaurant I’ve been to about the origin of the Balti dish.
This is a state of the nation novel, as Coe loves to write – in this one we have the interplay of pro-Europeans and pushy money-makers giving a fraternal contrast – and a Europe novel – the scenes in the European Parliament hilarious and battles over chocolate naming baffling – and it’s also Coe’s Covid novel and it clearly comes from a huge anger – in the Author’s Note at the end he clarifies that it’s a tribute to – not a portrait of – his mother and that she died alone with no personal contact from her family as they followed the rules – unlike the residents of 10 Downing Street. Being a consummate storyteller and craftsperson, he – just – doesn’t allow his angry agenda to unbalance the book.
An excellent book, readable and with depth, technically adept but not offputtingly literary, and highly recommended.