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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

What a Carve Up !

(The Winshaw Legacy)

Jonathan Coe

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To purchase The Winshaw Legacy

Title: What a Carve Up ! (The Winshaw Legacy)
Author: Jonathan Coe
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994
Length: 501 pages
Availability: The Winshaw Legacy - US
What a Carve Up ! - UK
What a Carve Up ! - Canada
What a Carve Up ! - India
Testament à l'anglaise - France
Allein mit Shirley - Deutschland
La famiglia Winshaw - Italia
¡Menudo reparto! - España
  • UK title: The Winshaw Legacy
  • US title: What a Carve Up !

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Our Assessment:

A- : a solid, very funny read

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist A 14/5/1994 .
The Guardian . 19/4/1994 Shaun Whiteside
The Independent . 23/4/1994 Anthony Quinn
London Rev. of Books . 28/4/1994 Terry Eagleton
The LA Times A- 23/2/1995 Richard Eder
New Statesman & Society A- 29/4/1994 Laurence O'Toole
The NY Times A- 10/3/1995 Michiko Kakutani
San Francisco Chronicle A 12/2/1995 Carey Harrison
TLS . 22/4/1994 Nicholas Lezard

  Review Consensus:

  Everybody loved it. Some weaknesses -- the Winshaws drawn too farcically, too much stuffed in -- but on the whole Coe's ambition and sense of humor are resoundingly praised.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Financial swindlers, political careerists, arms dealers, mediacrats, profiteers: Coe's novel arraigns a whole gaggle of gargoyles, and delivers a comeuppance with pungent brio. (...) Bracing as it is to see the institutionalised pillage of the Eighties given such a vigorous doing over, the book would not be nearly so engaging without Coe's slightly nerdish narrator." - Anthony Quinn, The Independent

  • "Coe's abundances and intricacies are enriching. His strands thread together adroitly into a flawed but many-textured examination of obsession and dysfunction, greed and madness." - Laurence O'Toole, New Statesman & Society

  • "The Winshaw Legacy is a big, raucous and exhilarating novel." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "Unlike such harsher novelists as Will Self, Coe is still touched by Britain's failures, and angered by them too. He isn't cynical, and although the cast of characters in The Winshaw Legacy leaves us with little enough hope for Britain's future, the reader knows that idealism isn't dead as long as novels like this are written and published." - Carey Harrison, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       After a series of short novels Jonathan Coe moved on to this much more ambitious undertaking. Weightier than the three previous works combined, it is also much broader and more ambitious in scope. Social commentary cum detective story, Coe pulls out all the stops in this unusual novel, echoing the famous British film it is titled after (though naturally the novel was senselessly retitled by his mindless American publishers).
       Centered around the Winshaw family, who show the absolute worst side of British society in their ruthless dealings as they find success, of sorts, Coe paints a sharp and cynical (though often very funny) portrait of post-War England. The Winshaws -- arms dealers, bankers, art dealers, tabloid journalists -- represent most everything bad, selling arms to Saddam Hussein, stabbing each other in the back, leaving a shambles all about. Novelist Michael Owen is commissioned to write a biography of the clan, but he is less than successful. It is Owen who is obsessed by the British horror-comedy, What a Carve Up !, and the novel is written in imitation of the movie (but in a manner where familiarity with the film is not necessary for enjoyment or understanding of the book).
       Little Michael Owen's own story is also told, a sober contrast to the wild antic descriptions of the various Winshaw's and their evil ways. Coe builds up an intricate and enormous tableau of modern Britain, biting satire mixed with social (but not pedantic) consciousness. It is a sprawling work, carefully built up of often very amusing pieces that, put together, add up to an even greater whole. While it lacks the sparse elegance of Coe's excellent early novel, A Touch of Love, it makes for an immensely enjoyable wild ride.
       A bit British, and a bit over the top on occasion, What a Carve Up ! / The Winshaw Legacy is highly recommended.

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What a Carve Up !: Reviews: What a Carve Up ! - the movie (aka No Place like Homicide !)
  • The IMDb site on the movie that plays such a prominent role in the novel.
Jonathan Coe: Other books by Jonathan Coe under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Born in 1961, Jonathan Coe attended Cambridge and Warwick universities. He is the author of several novels.

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