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chesilbeach

Isle of Wight - England, England by Julian Barnes

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ISLE OF WIGHT
 
England, England by Julian Barnes
 
Synopsis:
As every schoolboy knows, you can fit the whole of England on the Isle of White. Grotesque, visionary tycoon Sir Jack Pitman takes the saying literally and does exactly that. He constructs on the island 'The Project', a vast heritage centre containing everything 'English', from Big Ben to Stonehenge, from Manchester United to the white cliffs of Dover. The project is monstrous, risky, and vastly successful. In fact, it gradually begins to rival 'Old' England and even threatens to supersede it...One of Barnes's finest and funniest novels, England, England calls into question the idea of replicas, truth vs fiction, reality vs art, nationhood, myth-making, and self-exploration.
 
Alternative:
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (link to book discussion thread)
 
Other Isle of Wight books:

Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift
The Trespasser by D. H. Lawrence

Edited by chesilbeach

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This is the first contemporary book on the list I've read, and I didn't know much about it before I started.  I've read a few other Julian Barnes books and enjoyed them, so I was cautiously optimistic for this one.  However, I made the mistake of reading some Amazon reviews before I started, which were pretty evenly split between the 1-5 star ratings, so I guess it's one of those books you either get or you don't, and I'm afraid I didn't.

 

The story is a satire but I struggled to find the humour in there.  It's also got elements of social commentary and there's an interesting section at the end reflecting on how England could be in the event of breaking its ties with Europe, which was rather appropriate in the current climate.

 

I don't really have much more to say on the book to be honest.  I never felt like giving up on it, although I did read something else alongside it, as even though I read it in a few days, it did feel like a bit of a chore during the middle section.  I think it just didn't hit the right note with me, and having only read it this week, it's already fading into memory, and I can't tell you much detail about it just a few days later.

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Copied from my blog...

 

When Martha was a young girl she used to enjoy doing a 'Counties of England' jigsaw (very appropriate for this reading challenge!) with her father… but that was before he left Martha and her mother. When she grows up Martha goes to work for businessman, entrepreneur and megalomaniac Sir Jack Pitman. Sir Jack has a vision – he wants to recreate the UK on the Isle of Wight. Not all of it. Oh no - he doesn't want the 'bad' bits - just the major tourist attractions. That way, he reasons, tourists will have all the attractions in one handy 380 km² package. Sir Jack's planning gathers momentum, and as people are afraid of saying no to him it seems nothing can stop him. But will this vision of Utopia really be a good thing – will it change things for better or for worse…

 

England, England was written in 1998 and is set in an undisclosed time period in the near future. I guess in that respect it's a little like Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four – and reading it post-EU Referendum it sometimes feels that Barnes has predicted Brexit!

 

I don't think I've read anything as satirical as this book before and I found the writing style rather odd to start with and wasn't sure whether I'd be able to get to the end, but once it got going I enjoyed it, despite the fact that none of the characters were really very nice! It's certainly an interesting premise, and I loved the end of the book. Despite the unpleasantness of some of the main characters, and particularly Sir Jack, they were very well written, and very convincing. In terms of the Counties Challenge, this fitted the bill perfectly, as so much of the action took place on the Isle of Wight. I haven't read any books by Julian Barnes before. I'm not sure if this is typical of his style – or if indeed he has a style, but I am curious to try another for comparison.

 

 

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