Review: Bournville by Jonathan Coe


Title: Bournville

Author: Jonathan Coe

Published: 3rd November 2022, Viking

Status: Read November 2022 courtesy PenguinUK/Netgalley


My Thoughts:


“Past, present and future: that was what she heard….Everything changes, and everything stays the same.”


I’m sure my request for Bournville by Jonathan Coe was inspired by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Promising a portrait of Britain as experienced by a middle class family over a period of seventy five years, I felt a tug of nostalgia tied to the end of an era.

After a prologue set in 2020, Coe begins with VE Day in 1945 where the residents of Bournville, a Birmingham village built around the Cadbury chocolate factory, simply known as the Works, are celebrating the end of the war. It’s here that eleven year old Mary lives with her parents Sam and Doll, and over the next seven decades, coinciding with seven memorable events in British history, Coe revisits Mary and her growing family.

The unique structure works well to reflect the national and individual experience of the changes in culture, attitudes, politics, technology and economics. I enjoyed the sojourn through each ‘occasion’ which includes the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the World Cup Final between England v. West Germany in 1966, the investiture of Prince Charles in 1969, his wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, and then the Princess’s tragic death in 1997, ending with 2020, which marks the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, and the start of the CoVid pandemic, but it is the journey of the characters that illustrate their meaning. Coe charts the family’s joys and griefs, triumphs and regrets, gains and losses, creating a history of their own as time marches on.

Written with tenderness, humour, and insight, Bournville evokes life’s ordinary and extraordinary moments. Enjoy with a block of Cadburys chocolate.


Available from Penguin UK


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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. WendyW
    Nov 30, 2022 @ 14:53:52

    I just love Cadbury chocolate, and this sounds like a thoughtful story

    Liked by 1 person


  2. ThoughtsBecomeWords
    Dec 03, 2022 @ 15:16:59

    Sounds like a delightful and nostalgic read. An friend of mine, recently passed away, was regularly employed in The Works in his school holidays. He had vivid memories of the chocolate aroma from the vats and the tiny insects which apparently hovered over them. Sadly, I can’t compare book notes with him but I will track down a copy.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. sydneyeditor1
    Dec 03, 2022 @ 21:10:49

    What a wonderful way to take you through history!

    Liked by 1 person


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  5. Liz Dexter
    Dec 06, 2022 @ 20:41:05

    A great review – I just posted my review of the book and had saved yours to read when I had. I really enjoyed the clever structure but, you’re right, the personal family history alongside the march of “big” History. Personally relevant for me, too, as I live really near Bournville!

    Liked by 1 person


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