I was looking forward to reading Bournville by Jonathan Coe, having so enjoyed Middle England and Mr Wilder and Me, and it absolutely didn’t disappoint. As the title suggests it is set in Bournville in Birmingham, which has the Cadburys chocolate factory at the heart of its community. It centres on one family, calling in on them through the decades from VE Day to the pandemic on particularly memorable and historic days.
It is packed full of research that it doesn’t try to hide away and is a great insight into British life and changing attitudes to race, gender and sexuality. Through the Queen’s coronation, the 1966 World Cup final, Charles and Diana’s wedding and Diana’s funeral, it follows Mary, her children and grandchildren, as each take different paths in love, life and work. Mary’s character (based on Coe’s own mother) shines through it all, a steadying beacon, until the end, when the novel provides a brutal commentary on how some politicians behaved in the pandemic, when ordinary families were following the rules.
All round a great read from one of my favourite novellists.