Book Review – Number 11 by Jonathan Coe
Publisher – Penguin
Number 11 is the eleventh novel written by Jonathon Coe, and although this is my first Coe read, research suggests it has all the hallmarks of his previous novels in that most of his work has an underlying preoccupation with political issues, often expressed comically in the form of satire. Number 11 is a bang up to date, state of the nation satire.
Starting with best friends Rachel and Alison, Coe takes us on a social and political journey beginning around the turn of the century. For the most part Rachel remains the main protagonist throughout, however, Number 11 is not really plot driven or character driven but rather a number of loosely connected short stories or episodes, where Rachel, predominately, has some link as does the Number 11, whether it’s a bus route, a house number, a table number at a function and also, not surprisingly, number 11 Downing Street.
The characters and their unfolding stories are used, in the main, as vehicles for Coe’s brilliant social commentary. His targets are obvious one’s but deservedly so including; corrupt business owners, bankers and politicians, social media – including cyber bullying and trolling – and reality TV. Coe also looks at the effect of austerity on the poor – be that housing shortages, a lack of decent job opportunities and the rise of food banks – compared to the unaffected super-rich with their many properties – often standing vacant – with garages alone valued at just under half a million pounds, used for storing cars never driven.
‘I feel,’ Rachel said, ‘that there’s my world, and there’s their world, and the two co-exist, and are very close to each other, but you can’t really pass from one to the other.’
Number 11 is a brilliantly social commentary about the current state of our nation. Coe is a great satirist and I often found my mouth lifting into a wry smile, however, I also found myself feeling somewhat deflated with his depressingly accurate observations about the absurdity of modern life. Therefore, it is not a particularly cheery read – and nor should it be. It also descends into a tale of horror towards the end, which although interesting, somehow felt disjointed with the rest of the book. I don’t think this book is for everyone, however Coe’s prose throughout is brilliant and I for one would recommend it.