Bournville | Jonathan Coe #UKfiction

The arrivals hall at Vienna airport was so quiet that Lorna had no difficulty picking her out, even though they had never met before.

It’s a bit of a pity when the first book reviewed for a brand new year turns out to be one of those just okay books. I thoroughly enjoyed Middle England by Jonathan Coe when I read it back in Jan-Feb 2020. So much so I quickly followed it up with The Rotter’s Club – book one in the trilogy. It’s rather curious reading these reviews now – written in the month before the world shut down thanks to Covid-19.

In many ways Bournville is a Covid-19 story.

It begins with Lorna, a middle-of-the-road jazz musician on tour in Europe and ends in Bournville during the early stages of the first lockdown. In between we experience the story of her grandmother Mary Lamb – from her childhood during WWII and the VE Day celebrations, through the Queen’s coronation, the 1966 World Cup final, Charles investiture as Prince of Wales, his wedding to Diana, her funeral, the pandemic and the 75th anniversary of VE Day in 2020. Which makes this a very Elizabethan story.

Great Britain is now living in the Carolean era (I keep forgetting this term & not sure why I feel the need to remember it, however I thought if I wrote it in a post, it might stick. It’s Latin for Charles, in case you were wondering. It may come in handy for a trivia night!)

Bournville displayed the same warmth, affection and charming British nostalgia that I enjoyed in his earlier books, but for some reason I failed to engage with this set of characters at all. I kept getting the grandparents and great-grandparents mixed up, I never really got a handle on Mary’s husband and their grandchildren remain a mystery to me.

I found the reliance on speeches (Churchill, Boris Johnson) annoying and by the end Coe’s use of the ‘everything changes, and everything stays the same‘ refrain felt trite. I learnt more about chocolate than I ever thought I would and found the early history of the Cadbury factory interesting. Dissenting voices and opinions are explored via his characters, although Coe is careful not to judge his characters. Racism, colonialism, the role and purpose of the monarchy and the issues leading up to Brexit all come up naturally in the day to day lives of the Lamb family.

For those who have read the Middle England trilogy, you will recognise some of the Trotter family who make cameo appearances and from the Unrest series of books we spend more time with some of the Foley family in this story.

Liz @Adventures in Reading enjoyed it more than I did with her Birmingham connections and appreciation of the ‘local colour’.

Favourite Quote: seemed especially pertinent as I was reading this over the Christmas/New Year holiday.

Well, family life was full of mystery.

Favourite Character: the chocolate. I love Cadbury’s chocolate and now I know it’s because of the fat content rather than the cocoa!

Favourite or Forget: I enjoyed the first half of the book, learning how and why the Cadbury family began production of drinking chocolate and why Cadbury’s chocolate now has more fat content than cocoa (the war). The European Union’ s chocolate wars which began in 1973 also opened my eyes as to some of the wider issues surrounding Brexit.

Title: Bournville
Author: Jonathan Coe
ISBN: 9780241517390
Imprint: Viking
Published: 15 November 2022
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 354
Dtaes Read: 29 December 2022 - 2 January 2023
  • This post was written in the area we now call the Blue Mountains within the Ngurra [country] of the Dharug and Gundungurra peoples.

21 thoughts on “Bournville | Jonathan Coe #UKfiction

    1. I’m reading 3 books at the moment and they are all terrific. Also finished Else Fitzgerald’s specualtive fiction stories just before NY – they were wonderful – looking forward to sharing them with you all next week for Bill’s Gen 5.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. They were also the first to put powdered milk into their chocolates. They said it was to make it more palatable to the public than dark chocolate. But then, even though milk powder cost a fraction of the cocoa, they charge the same amount, thereby increasing their profits enormously! This is why I dislike Cadbury chocolates. I’m a DARK chocolate lady!


    1. I guess it’s what you grow up with! My mum & dad would treat us a few times a year with the big family block of Cadbury’s chocolate. But I have noticed in recent times that the blocks are getting thinner, but they look the same size and stay the same price! I’m trying to consume less sugar and fat, so chocolates or sweets by any brand are rare treats these days.

      I can only eat one or two small pieces of dark choclate at a time – which is probably a good thing for my waistline!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Darling, I grew up with the dreaded Hershey’s! I ate it as a kid but today… OMG… that stuff is totally VILE. As for only having a small piece or two of dark chocolate at a time, I totally endorse that! That’s also why I allow myself to buy very expensive chocolates, minimum 70% cocoa solids. Because they’re expensive, I don’t want to finish them quickly, so I eat small amounts and not every day.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve fallen behind with Jonathan Coe a bit but I do want to catch up with him. I find I lose track of characters so easily these days, maybe I’ll have to sketch out a family tree with this one!


  3. Hmm, “okay” is not the best of incentives to try an author…

    I knew that Charlie-boy’s reign would have to be Carolean, but had fears Carolingian might be adopted – this, properly, only refers to Charlemagne’s reign, and the UK’s new king (who incidentally is younger than me but still comes across as an old fogey) is no Charles the Great.


    1. Thanks for adding to my trivia night knowledge with Charlemagne’s tag – I didn’t know he had his very own one!

      Thankfully my next few reviews will be far more enticing than just okay. Watch this space…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the shout-out and link, I think I did love this more because of the local aspect – I’m very fond of that little boating lake, for example, and it brings back lovely memories of running around it to read about it. The reliance on the speeches and Covid instructions was a bit annoying but then I thought how those Covid rules would be passing into the historical record like the speeches and decided it was a Good Thing to have them in the book! I haven’t loved everything I’ve read by him, though, was it House of Sleep I didn’t like?


    1. Mr Books is reading it now and enjoying it. Like me he thinks the first half is stronger than the second, and he also had trouble keeping track of the characters. Having said all of that, he told me tonight he is now at the chocolate wars in the EU part and he’s finding it fascinating again.


      1. I enjoyed that bit. I did have trouble keeping track of the characters but I also realised quite a lot of the more peripheral ones come from others of his novels I haven’t read!


  5. Well, let us see what the judges say about this book finalist for Orwell Prize for Political Fiction 2023.
    Where was the politics in this novel?


    1. All the way through! At every age there is discussion of the political issues of the time plus a huge section on the EU chocolate wars (which I found boring but Mr Books enjoyed.)


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