Cover Image: Bournville


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Member Reviews

Everything changes and everything stays the same

This is the fourth in a loosely-connected series, of which the first book was Expo 58, which I loved. Bourneville is the story of the Lamb family over five or six generations. When the book opens, Mary is a child during the war, living in Bourneville; by the end she’s eighty-six and trapped alone at home by the pandemic and lockdown rules, unable to see her three sons and their families. Many of the preoccupations of the book are similar to those of Middle England. The story is pinned to events of the period e.g. the Coronation in 1953, the 1966 World Cup, the death of Princess Diana. Significantly, almost all are televised and so shared by families all over the country. Here is my idea of Coe’s research list and all the cutting and pasting he put into the book.

Look up the King’s speech on the wireless at the end of the war.
Find a copy of The Radio Times for 1953 and see what viewers were offered.
When did The Mouse Trap open?
When was Casino Royale first published?
Find a transcript of Richard Dimbleby’s commentary on the Coronation.
What was the most popular television show at the time of the World Cup?
(The Man from Uncle; the Russians are obsessed with it and go to a local hairdressing saloon asking for Robert Vaughn haircuts.)
What were the biggest hits of 1966?
When did people start shopping at Habitat?
How did British Leyland advertise the Metro?
In 1981, how did people use the ZX81?
Which book won the Booker in 1997?
What were the precise instructions from the government on how to behave during the pandemic?

The results of some of these queries are printed verbatim; one way to fulfil your word count, I suppose. There is a story hiding in here but it’s mostly about social change and the helplessness of the liberal middle class watching social tensions, racism and eventually Boris and Brexit, their worst nightmare, until they hardly know what country they live in any more. Poor souls, they live in Guardian-land; a lonely place. I found this too much like what Coe wrote in Middle England, except that only one Trotter is mentioned. The book is really about an angry Jonathan Coe, as you realise when you read the Author’s Notes at the end. Not so much a novel as a collage. On the other hand, I do like reading about people’s daily lives and preoccupations.

I read this thanks to the publisher and NetGalley.

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Via seven major real national events in post-WW2 England, Jonathan Coe weaves a wonderful fictional narrative. At times bitingly funny, but always beautifully written, Coe ruminates on the state of modern England. But underlying it all, is Coe's deep affection for his notion of England, perhaps best highlighted through the running theme that 'everything changes, and everything stays the same'. Despite Coe's gentle soothing writing style, he provokes readers to reflect on the most critical social issues of our times. This is a great read from an excellent writer. Highly recommended. Special thanks to Penguin UK and NetGalley for an advance copy in return for a no obligation honest review.

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I was in two minds about this book. On the one hand it is beautifully written with great detail about the each time period in which it is set, but on the other hand it seems to wander about without a real theme to draw it together.
The story begins in WW2 with Mary Lamb, an only child, being brought up in the area of Birmingham near the Cadbury's chocolate factory. Coe then uses prominent events in history to hang the story of Mary's life on so we have stops at the Queen's coronation, the World Cup Final in 1966, the investiture of Prince Charles, the wedding of Charles and Diana, the death of Dinah and finally the 75th anniversary of VE Day in 2020. The monarch features quiet heavily in this novel, and the reactions of Mary's family reflect the mood of the nation at the time.
I found Mary a great character, full of life and vigour, and I did have to wonder why she settled for boring old Geoffrey and a rather sedate life, but it appears she was happy and a doting mother and grandmother. I enjoyed the scenes that featured Mary particularly and actually didn't like some of the other members of her family and found their asides less interesting and less relevant and sometimes confusing as to who they actually were.
Although beautifully told, a more defined plot would have given this novel five stars from me.
The author's note at the end is incredibly poignant and telling — reflecting of the feelings of a great many people in the UK, I think.

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I hadn't previously read anything by Jonathan Coe and chose this on the basis of the title and the description. I too visited Bournville Village as part of a trip to Cadbury World and thought it looked a lovely place to live (apart from all the tourists!!).

I liked the way that the steps in the narrative were defined by national events such as VE Day, the Queen's Coronation and the wedding of Charles and Diana, amongst others. These helped to highlight the social and political differences between the various characters. Especially good was the insight in to the chocolate war - just the sort of thing to have made UK citizens vote to leave the EEC. This is a really interesting and enjoyable read.

Thanks to Net Galley and the publishers for the opportunity to review this book.

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I was really looking forward to this novel - a history of Britain over the past 70 odd years through the eyes of Bournville resident Mary and her family.

Some interesting parts but for me there was ultimately nothing new and it fell a bit flat. The writing was great in places but I felt the structure of the book didn’t allow me to connect with the characters and their story across the years in quite the way I would have wanted. Perhaps because of this I found myself fairly uninterested in their fates.

I would have wanted to learn a bit more about Bournville itself too. I can definitely see the books appealing to readers but unfortunately, for me, this book was just OK when I wanted it to be so much more.

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read an early review

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This novel set in Bournville within the vicinity of the famous Cadbury’s factory in Birmingham provides the location of Coe’s wonderful new novel. He starts this family tale of Mary in 1945 aged 11 and introduces us to her parents and as it moves through the decades, her children Martin, Jack and Peter. Through this family, Coe describes their interactions that happen to coincide with national events including the Queen’s Coronation, VE Day and Charles and Diana’s wedding among others. His meticulous attention to detail adds to the tension as family members air their opinions on the event in question. His ability to differentiate between describing the historical day with characters comments is well crafted and he has not allowed his bias nor hindsight to clutter the narrative. A wonderful story that describes the routine and mundanity of life through a unique insight at highlighting life’s contradictions and absurdities. His commentary on the Austin Metro car ad and comments about a certain blonde prime minister are two such examples. His talent for unravelling the daily routine into a compelling tale and Bournville delivers like a sweet chocolate treat that leaves you wanting more. His afterword is particularly poignant. A must read.

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The story of a family living in Bournville, a suburb of Birmingham, over four generations .
The book gives us glimpses of the family and the way it evolves over time, at certain important historical moments for the UK beginning at VE Day in 1945 via events such as the Queen’s coronation in 1953, England winning the World Cup in 1966 and the funeral of the Princess of Wales in 1997, through to the Covid pandemic in 2020.

This is a novel but also an excellent assessment of the history of the UK in the twentieth century.

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A gentle and moving depiction of Britain and what makes it so very British told through the lives of one family. Past, present and future are elegantly interwoven as we see parts of ourselves and our own families in this familiar story.. A story to take personally for all the right reasons.

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Very mixed feelings about this one.
Coe writes wonderful ‘state of the nation’ novels but this, I feel is a rushed and diluted version. Structured around momentous events of the past 80 years: VE Day, Coronation of Elizabeth II, 1966 World Cup, Charles and Diana, Brexit and Covid, there’s not much we haven’t read before.
Mary, mother of the family is the constant, and we see her life from a child to grandmother, and we see her family growing up, moving on and away from Bournville, that idyllic village created by the Cadbury family to provide workers with decent housing and surroundings (but no pubs!).
There are some very touching moments, fascinating characters and relationships, and very angry moments, but diversions into eg rules and reg of The Chocolate War and Lockdown, left me wondering where the soul of the story had gone.
Thank you to #NetGalley and #Penguin for my pre-release download

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This is an absolute masterpiece of social observation of an extended family over a period of 70years. Using a series of major events from the end of the Second World War to the recent pandemic, Jonathon Coe shows us how society has changed from how we view race, homosexuality, snobbery and much more. This is an absolutely brilliant book.

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Bournville is another enjoyable family saga and state of the nation novel from Jonathan Coe which follows the lives of one family over 75 years from V. E. Day to the Covid-19 pandemic. We first meet Mary Lamb in March 2020 aged 86 when the first lockdown is on the horizon before travelling back to 1945 where eleven-year-old Mary and her parents are celebrating the end of the Second World War in the Bournville village which gives the novel its name. We rejoin Mary, her children and grandchildren at other landmark moments of British history such as the Coronation, the 1966 World Cup and the death of Princess Diana.

This format allows us to examine a variety of national issues through the prism of one family and to chart shifting attitudes towards politics, the royal family and Europe. The Birmingham setting is familiar territory to readers of Coe's other novels, but here the focus on the Bournville factory adds an interesting dimension - particularly entertaining is Mary's son Martin's involvement in the EU 'chocolate wars' of the 1990s. Changing attitudes towards race and sexuality are also explored rather poignantly - one of Mary's sons is gay and one of her daughters-in-law is Black but neither are fully accepted. The novel is at its most moving in the final section when presenting the pain caused by the pandemic, especially for those of Mary's generation.

As in other novels, Coe plays with structure and perspective to good effect - most sections are narrated in third person but this broken up at points with diary entries and other documents. There is a pleasing erudition about Coe's writing but he wears this very lightly - I can think of no other novelist whose work would make repeated reference to the 1953 comedy film Genevieve and also to Oliver Messiaen's 'Quartet for the End of Time', but no prior knowledge is required to enjoy these. Familiar faces from other novels pop up, including Paul Trotter MP and the Foley family as well as a young, scruffy, reckless journalist in Brussels called Boris...

Overall, this is a leisurely and insightful reflection on post-war British history - thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC to review.

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This is my neck of the woods, place-wise, as it is Coe's, so I was very keen to get my hands on this novel. From a personal point of view, I love a novel with a sense of place, so I was keen to see how this was going to pan out. What I think we have in 'Bournville' is an epic novel, yes, but also an example, in many ways, of how we're living in a time of phenomenally speedy change, and I think what Coe has produced is, in fact, more than a work of fiction. The novel itself focuses on history, both of Bournville and the surrounds, and the UK generally. Personally, I like the way Coe, here, uses fiction to convey non-fiction, covering significant events in an intelligent and relevant way. The characters live through these events and so, effectively, UK history is conveyed through the medium of fiction, but also, the history of 'place' is also laid out in a highly entertaining and readable way. This is very clever and particularly apt. Brilliant. More of this, please. My grateful thanks to the publishers, and to NetGalley for the early copy.

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Jonathan Coe writes a gripping and beguiling novel, the remarkable social and political history of Britain, 75 years of political turbulence, changing social norms and attitudes, seen through Mary Lamb and her family, 4 generations captured through time, with Mary feeling near the end of her life as if she is inhabiting the past, present and future. Everything changing, yet nothing changes, and it begins with Lorna, Mary's granddaughter, in Vienna on a musical tour at the start of the pandemic, being asked how Britain got where it is, with Brexit and Boris, by Ludwig. We then tune into 11 year old Mary, celebrating the end of WW2, living in the quiet Birmingham suburb of Bournville, the chocolate village and factory, employing family members through the decades until it is closed down and is turned into a theme park.

The narrative jumps through the years, catching up with family members and their history, anchored by national events, such as the coronation of young Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the triumph of the 1966 World Cup win by England over Germany, the investiture of Charles as the Prince of Wales, the loss of the British Empire but spawning a new national self confidence arising through a cultural renaissance, with the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, culminating in the swinging 60s. It then picks up again in 1981 with the spectacle of Charles and Diana's wedding taking place amidst the background of social unrest with the riots, moving to 1997 with the death and funeral of Princess Diana, and the grief and mourning of a nation, the divisions created by Brexit, right up to the horrors of Covid 19.

This history of Britain is writ large in Mary, and her family, she marries Geoffrey, knowing who he is and his problematic attitudes, she has 3 sons, Jack, Martin and Peter, becoming a grandmother and a great-grandmother. She is obsessed by sports and becomes a PE teacher and is particularly close to her musician son, Peter. The family mirrors the nation's culture, attitudes, political conflicts and divisions, and developments on issues such as race, sexual orientation, the position of women, incorporating both pro and anti-royalist feelings, and the bitterness of the sharp Brexit divisions. This is a a superb and engaging family drama, of our love of chocolate, and British history, a tender, smart, witty, astute and sharply observed state of the nation novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

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Coe's model is familiar to me by now: the story of a family resting on the events of the last 70-50 years of English history. Nothing new compared to Middle England, but perhaps boredom was predominant this time as far as I was concerned. The Lamb family seems to be a copy of some of the families in past books, and English history, as well known as it is, interests me as a non-Englishman to a certain extent. Maybe next time it will be better.

Il modello di Coe mi é ormai conosciuto: la storia di una famiglia che si appoggia sugli eventi degli ultimi 70-50 anni della storia inglese. Niente di nuovo rispetto a Middle England, ma forse stavolta la noia era predominante per quanto mi riguarda. La famiglia Lamb sembra una copia di alcune delle famiglie dei libri passati e la storia inglese, per quanto conosciuta, a me che non sono inglese interessa poi fino ad un certo punto. Magari la prossima volta andrá meglio.

I received from the Publisher a complimentary digital advanced review copy of the book in exchange for a honest review.

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I was approved for an ARC of Bournville by Jonathan Coe. I haven't read any other books by this author, but living in the West Midlands and having done so all my life, the title appealed to me.

The story follows four generations of the same family, over a period of 75 years. I found it to be an enjoyable story, and sad in parts. The story covers memorable moments in time, and how the family reacted to those. I would have liked there to be more references to the Midlands, and perhaps more insight into the factory life, but overall I enjoyed the book

#bournville #jonathancoe #netgalley

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Bournville is the story of Mary and her family, set against the backdrop of big events in modern British history, from 11-year-old Mary on VE Day up until the Covid pandemic. Dropping in on the family and seeing where they are at and their reaction to various momentous occasions worked very well in charting the family's growth and the state of Britain in snapshots. A funny, nostalgic novel.

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This family saga over 75 years set in Cadbury Village Bournville, a suburb of Birmingham is an interesting and powerful and emotive which I thoroughly enjoyed.

We follow all the characters through post war history and big and small events.

Some characters are better drawn and more realistic than others but the story came together well and it well up to the standard of this excellent author.

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plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

I've only read one other Coe novel - Middle England - and from that limited experience it seems that Coe has a tried-and-tested formula: state of the nation novels focusing on a specific (or a number of specific) events in recent(ish) history, and a tight cast of characters who spend a fair chunk of the narrative ruminating on politics and current affairs in said moment in history.

Coe's latest offering heads back to an area he knows well: the West Midlands. Educated in Edgbaston, one gathers from the epilogue that many of the locales featured in Bournville are/were familiar to him in his younger years. Currently living in the West Midlands myself I was interested in a novel which featured the area so prominently, but I think the book was a bit of a letdown in that regard - the sections on the history of Bournville were interesting though.

Now the author was not to know that since his epilogue was written a mere 5 months ago in April 2022 that a) the Queen would have passed away and, b) Boris Johnson would no longer be in power and the UK would be in an even worse state of affairs. The news in the UK is totally saturated by these topics right now - understandably - so perhaps for me personally this was not a good moment to read a novel that featured these two themes so prominently when I am reading a novel to relax and escape from constant discussion and rumination on such topics. If you're a fan of zeitgeist-y reads then maybe this will all work better for you.

Don't get me wrong: these are important topics, and there are many thought-provoking and interesting things that could be said about them/ways they could be included in a novel, but here they felt almost ancillary to the story the author was trying to tell and like they had been shoehorned in. Several big milestone events for the monarchy in the 20th century - the Queen's coronation, Charles and Diana's wedding, Diana's death - are titles of sections of the book and feature quite heavily, and I get that Coe was trying to say that whilst the lives of the characters moved on and these big events happened things didn't really change that much for the lives of ordinary people of the UK... but somehow it didn't make for an engaging or particularly entertaining read for me. I didn't care about anything that happened to any of the characters. It felt like a checklist of topics one would associate with the mid to late-20th century arbitrarily cobbled together.

Disappointing stuff. I think this novel was trying to do way too much and as a result didn't end up achieving any of it.

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I really liked this book by Jonathan Coe. I liked the way that he told the story of four generations of
a family over 75 years or more.

His use of events in the memories of everyone alive at the time underpinning the storyline was an excellent mechanism for moving the story along.

As usual his sense of humour shines through the book.

I haven't read the other books in this series, perhaps that is an aspiration for the near future.

As with other up-to-date books, he has utilised the covid epidemic, and modern beliefs to interest the full spectrum of readers.

Thank you for a wonderful read, and lots of memories.

Thanks to the author and the publisher for an advanced copy for an honest review.

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I've never ready any Jonathan Coe novels, so I was coming to this with no expectations, and I really enjoyed it. I've seen other reviewers say that nothing much happens, but that is the joy of this book. The core of the plot centres around the life of Mary Lamb from when she is a child on VE Day, right through to her experiences of the pandemic in 2020, and branches out to include her family members which are introduced along the way. My favourite part of the book was the nation's reaction to the royal family; from the King's speech in 1945 to an address by Queen Elizabeth to celebrate the 75th anniversary of that date, It would have been interesting to see what Coe would have made of the reaction to the Queen's funeral.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy of this book.

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