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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.

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