by Jonathan Coe ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 15, 1995
This is British writer Coe's fourth novel but his first to appear in the US, and it's easy to see why American publishers have hesitated to introduce him here. Funny and ambitious, his scathing social satire of England in the 1980s relies on a familiarity with domestic politics, as well as with British popular culture. The very subtitle of this panoramic narrative derives from a third-rate British horror film from the early '60s, starring the sexy Shirley Eaton, whose curvaceousness plays an important role in the fantasy lives of more than one character in this rollicking novel. Michael Owen, for one, the author of two critically respected novels, finds himself (circa 1982) engaged to write the family history of the Winshaws, a wealthy and powerful clan described by one repentant member as ""the meanest, greediest, cruellest bunch of back-stabbing, penny-pinching bastards who ever crawled across the face of the earth."" The family is behind every excess and degradation of the '80s: the overblown art market, the rise of tabloid journalism, the decline of small farms, the privatization of health care, the unscrupulous dealing in arms to Iraq, and the creation of paper wealth characteristic of the decade. Measuring the consequences of their evil in personal terms, Owen finds a Winshaw behind every private misery and tragedy. This, and a revelation about his own past, renders him more or less mute for two years. His only relief comes from masturbating to the image of Shirley Eaton on his VCR. What he doesn't discover until well into this surprisingly neat narrative is just how much his life is intertwined with this horrible family, and that the mad, institutionalized Tabitha Winshaw, with her accusations of truly horrific Winshaw betrayals, is absolutely correct. Something of a Labourite Tom Wolfe, Coe seems a bit naive politically, with his monolithic view of evil. Nevertheless, he has just the right narrative brio to pull off this wild, satisfying novel.
Pub Date: Feb. 15, 1995
Page Count: 512
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1994
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