Home Forums General Discussion How has reading "Carve Up" affected your life?

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    This is a quote from Jonathan a few months ago:

    "this is the question that interests me most, twenty years after I wrote the book: why, at a time of political difficulty and dissatisfaction in my own country, did I think that writing a novel about it would be a helpful intervention? What was I trying to achieve? Can satire, or political fiction, ever really change anything, or do they just make things worse?"

    My own question to readers out there is: "How has reading What a Carve Up! affected your life?"

    You, the readers, can say whether the book "really changed anything" in your life. It did affect your life, in that you spent a number of hours reading it, when you could have been doing something else, perhaps mugging a stranger or lobbying your MP to stop NHS cuts.

    Jonathan also wrote in the Guardian than most satire "preaches to the converted". I suspect this is true for most who read the book through choice, but then Carve-Up is taught in universities, and some of those students wont be converts. And preaching to the converted isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it might help us keep our convictions, remind us we are not alone?

    Jonathan also wrote in the Guardian: "Satire…suppresses political anger rather than stoking it up. Political energies which might otherwise be translated into action are instead channelled into comedy and released – dissipated – in the form of laughter". I wonder what you, the reader, thinks of this in relation to reading What a Carve Up! I know it made Uppa cry with empathy for NHS ‘victims’ and injustice. I wonder if and how it changed Uppa’s thoughts, feelings and actions after that.

    I’m not dismissing these comments from Jonathan, I’m just asking you readers to help me explore them. I’m interested in responses to Carve-Up, but also in responses to other literature by Jonathan and other writers.

    Thanks, Pip


    I felt my question was looking rather pitiful in its unanswered state on the message board, so I’m giving an answer myself.

    My answer is perhaps predictable, in that reading the novel clearly affected my thoughts and emotions, but I cannot say what contribution it made to my actions. I found the book deeply pleasurable, in that it was funny and sometimes tender and articulated my political beliefs. I was uncomfortably enlightened by the passages on intensive farming and the arms trade – with the related attack on Graham. I already had some awareness of intensive farming and the arms trade, and have opposed both for years. But I tend to skim read news articles on them, whereas I didn’t skim read the relevant passages in What A Carve Up! because I enjoyed the novel.

    I cried when I read the Author’s note at the end of the book, because it brought home to me that Jonathan Coe was describing my world, more than I thought. In the Author’s note Jonathan says he got his information on Iraqi torture practices from Amnesty International etc. I guess the Author’s note undid the sense of closure I left the story with, it sort of said: this is real life, and I knew it was still going on.

    The novel energised my sense of injustice, and writing about the novel in an essay made me want to turn my feelings into action. I arranged to join a political group, and I read a political newspaper which had been gathering dust. That immediate post-novel momentum to take action has now been subdued with the busyness of life, but I do feel the novel is one factor amongst many which helps me ‘keep the faith’, and compels me to still take some albeit limited action amidst that busyness. I regularly attend environmental and social justice meetings, and am staffing a Campaign Against the Arms Trade stall next month.


    It has become my favourite novel of all time, and I read daily. It has slightly changed my ideas of politics and how the world works. It has deeply influenced me in my own writing. It was my first Coe ever and I will never forget it. Thanks a lot literary studies of Postmodernism in English!

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