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The middling sort

An ambitious novel of modern England is let down by its Brexit blindspot, says Ian Sansom

Jonathan Coe writes big, bold state-of-the-nation novels that demand to be taken seriously. Coe’s new novel Middle England is being promoted by his publishers as “The novel for our strange new age,” though such a claim depends on what exactly you think a novel, any novel, about our strange new age should be like, and indeed whether or not our age is in fact either strange or new.

Coe’s books often interconnect: his underrated 2015 novel Number 11, for example, is a sort of non-sequel sequel to 1994’s What a Carve Up!, his great, genre-defying account of Thatcherism. Middle England is the third instalment of what one might call his King Edward’s novels—books that largely feature characters who, like Coe, attended King Edward’s school in Birmingham in the 1970s, which was at the time a mixed independent and grammar school. The Rotters’ Club (2001) and The Closed Circle (2004) are parts one and two of what may eventually be regarded as the closest thing we have to a contemporary middle-class, middle-England Dance to the Music of Time.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect's November issue: Paul Collier explains how major cities in the UK will always be in the shadow of London unless capitalism is overhauled and suggests ways that we might be able to improve the situation in those communities that capitalism has left behind. Meanwhile, Steve Bloomfield asks what is going at the Foreign Office. The once great institution that was a symbol of Britain’s global power now seems to be lost and unable to explains its role. Also, Samira Shackle explores a Pakistani protest movement that is unnerving the country’s military. Elsewhere in the issue: Dahlia Lithwick suggests that the Supreme Court will struggle to retain its authority now that Brett Kavanaugh is on the bench. Philip Ball argues that DNA doesn’t define destiny as he reviews a new book by Robert Plomin. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Simon Heffer debate political correctness.