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The Broken Mirror by Jonathan Coe

It was a small garden, and it didn’t take her
long to get bored, out there by herself.
I think, or at least, I believe I think I enjoyed Jonathan Coe’s novels when I was in university and shortly thereafter. Although I couldn’t tell you now what it was about, What A Carve Up! has maintained a halo of untouchable sanctity on the nostalgic bookshelves of my mind (whereas the physical copy went in the great purge), as does, for some reason, The Dwarves of Death. However, Coe’s The Rotters Club and other, more recent works, can chuffing well do one for all the entertainment they afforded me. So it was with not a little trepidation that I chucked however many quid at Unbound for their pitch of Coe’s “coming-of-age fairy tale… a charming, relevant read that has much to offer all generations.”

Sadly, this one missed it’s mark with me too. In its defense, it’s short, a mere 80-odd pages, with around 10% of those given over to arguably lovely pictures from the Italian artist and collaborator Chiara Coccorese, so of course it can’t be a long-form exploration of the political themes at which it takes aim. However, against it is the fact that such simplistic treatment of local disenfranchisement, the failure of multiculturalism and the corruption of local government leaves it sat squarely between the fantastical pseudo-Narnian children’s fable it might have been and a pithy and profound Swiftian satire that Coe has decided it was intended to be all along. It falls between stools. And honestly, for a bitter, jaded forty-something liberal lapsed humanist such as me, it’s all a bit trite and fluffy. 

Yes, Claire’s tale is dark and telling of the troubles that our children will face growing up in the post-austerity shithole that Tory Euro-sceptics have left us all in, but equally, no-one but the people who can actually see through all the tripe have found the pieces of the enchanted mirror, so no-one is actually challenged on their political beliefs and it’s the liberals who are empowered to see the alternative reality portrayed in the shards; no-one is enlightened who wasn’t previously.

Don’t let me put you off buying and cherishing this attractive little book – it surely has value for very many people out there and is wonderfully produced, to the superbly high standards of everything to which Unbound turn their hands. However, for me, I could have done without being lightly patronized for the twenty minutes or so it took me to finish.


How's about that then?

The Elephant by Sławomir Mrożek

It’s a wonder that Sławomir Mrożek lived to be 83. Maybe the post-Stalin regimes of Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev were less likely to pitch a critical satirist into an unmarked grave or have him dragged off to winter in Siberia than was Uncle Joe. Maybe he just wasn’t widely read and therefore not deemed a threat. Or perhaps his support of the Stalinist persecution of religious leaders in Poland and his membership of the Polish United Workers’ Party (until he defected) stood him in historical stead good enough so that he didn’t find himself on the sharp end of a radioactive umbrella. Because frankly, having read The Elephant, published in 1957 but not banned until 1968, it’s hard to see anyone in the Soviet bureaucracy letting this level of criticism go unpunished.
Take the titular story, The Elephant, one of 42 similarly absurd political satires in this slim volume. A provincial zoo, lacking “all the important animals” is awarded an elephant by the Party, muc…

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

Hi, how’ve you been? I’ve been busy myself, thanks for asking. In fact, I was so busy I began contemplating a terminal hiatus from this, ostensibly purposeless endeavour. However, for reasons, I chose not to take it. So on with the show and back to Helen DeWitt.
If there’s one thing about this dense, frankly mind-bogglingly erudite book to love/find empathy with (apart from my own Canadian edition’s deckle-edged hardbackedness – deckle edges; good or bad? Discuss!), it would have to be the passages narrated by Sibylla, mother to genius progeny Ludo. As a parent to one post-toddler and one pre-toddler, as well as occasional taker-up-of-space in the lives of three other young human beings, there are so very few occasions where a simple conversation can be carried out to its logical terminus without interruption and digression; conversations start, stop, return to the beginning, are interrupted once more, are delayed and postponed, and cycle back again until it’s time to give up, get off …

The Last Werewolf Trilogy by Glen Duncan

A trilogy of werewolf novels, the remaining three books of Duncan’s published oeuvre left for me to read, and I’ve gone and devoured them all in one go. I’ve made similar mistakes before; reading every single book I could find by one author as soon as they’re found. It usually ends up in a colossal mess of plot lines, meaning and symbolism in the gray matter, and an inability to unravel one from the other and explain, convincingly, to anyone why they should be read – especially challenging when one’s former job was to sell books to people on the strength of personal recommendations. Nonetheless, I decided that to read these three contiguously made sense, in so far as I have a strong distaste at being left hanging on for the next instalment, be it television series’, serialised print articles or trilogies. And, *COP OUT KLAXON* to review them in one Mega Review Article was the way forward too. So, here’s the quick and habitual disclaimer / plea for clemency. This way, you’ll have to de…

The One from the Other by Philip Kerr

Philip Kerr is an author I have been reluctant to attempt to review for some time. His Berlin Noir trilogy cost me some hours of sleeplessness and in the end I decided to skip a review and just be happy to have read it and therefore move it from the pile of unread novels, via the edge of my desk where the “to review” pile occasionally falls over on to the typewriter and spills my pen pot across the floor and thus causes significant risks when stumbling blindly about the room at night too drunk to remember where my bed is or having just been jolted awake by the boy shrieking from the next room and running asleep into walls and doors, to the back half of my giant Ikea bookcase where novels that have been read and have caused my self-esteem to shatter on the diamond-hard edges of someone else’s talent currently reside, gathering dust and moisture until hitting the mildew tipping point and becoming physically dangerous in their own right. This awesome crew consists mainly of Will Self, Jo…