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Bournville cover art

Bournville

By: Jonathan Coe
Narrated by: Peter Caulfield,Cara Horgan
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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

From the bestselling, award-winning author of Middle England comes a profoundly moving, brutally funny and brilliantly true portrait of Britain told through four generations of one family.

In Bournville, a placid suburb of Birmingham, sits a famous chocolate factory. For eleven-year-old Mary and her family in 1945, it's the centre of the world. The reason their streets smell faintly of chocolate, the place where most of their friends and neighbours have worked for decades. Mary will go on to live through the Coronation and the World Cup final, royal weddings and royal funerals, Brexit and Covid-19. She'll have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Parts of the chocolate factory will be transformed into a theme park, as modern life and the city crowd in on their peaceful enclave.

As we travel through seventy-five years of social change, from James Bond to Princess Diana, and from wartime nostalgia to the World Wide Web, one pressing question starts to emerge: will these changing times bring Mary's family - and their country - closer together, or leave them more adrift and divided than ever before?

Bournville is a rich and poignant novel from the bestselling, Costa award-winning author of Middle England. It is the story of a woman, of a nation's love affair with chocolate, of Britain itself.

©2022 Jonathan Coe (P)2022 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"A wickedly funny, clever, but also tender and lyrical novel about Britain and Britishness and what we have become." (Rachel Joyce)

What listeners say about Bournville

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Such a wasted opportunity

I love Jonathan Coe‘s writing, and I commend him for portraying his mum in such a wonderful light in this book. Unfortunately, outside of Mary and to an extent Bridget, the rest of the characters feel woefully uninspired. The story is meandering and, possibly worst of all, it doesn’t really have anything to say - apart from some hackneyed attempt at circle of life stuff. At times I honestly felt like I was just reading a very boring history of an even more boring family. There is so little depth to the characters and their relation to these historic events. The writer also managed to skip some massive social and cultural shifts. No mention of social media or Trump whatsoever. Which feels a bit pointless, as essentially Boris based his whole schtick on the American president.

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Good story terrible narration

I’m a bit fan of Jonathan Coe and enjoyed hearing familiar names from his other novels pop in. The story was enjoyable overall but some sections which would probably have been skimmed through in a paper copy were quite dreary to sit through in this audiobook. The fear of missing a vital piece of information prevented me from skipping on. The biggest let down was the narrator. Mispronounced words throughout were distracting and infuriating, and the one small section narrated by a different person seemed completely unnecessary. Having stuck through it to the end I’m glad I did, but I will be glad not to have to hear the dreary voice of the reader any more!

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Touching ode to author's mother

If you want to know what makes the English tick, read this!
A tragi-comic tewwtment of four generations of a Birmingham family go through their own upheavals and changes against the backdrops of national events: covid, Brexit, VE day anniversary, death of Diana, coronation of the Queen. Set in the garden suburb of Bournville
Does the English character change since 1945? Well attitudes to race and sexuality certainly. Technology goes forward in leaps and bounds, and the economy evolves.
But in the end, Coe concludes that everything changes, everything stays the same. Lusten to the author's note at the end.
Truly moving with regard to his mother and scathing of the UK government's handling of lockdown and its heartbreaking effect on the elderly. Coe is no fan of Boris Johnson who he weaves into the plot.
Maintains his position as premier state-of-the-nation author working today. A Dickens for our times.
Brilliantly read with authentic Brummy accents! Compliment to the reader(s)!

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I’d give it zero stars if I could

Sentimental and predictable with possibly the worst narrator I’ve heard. Definitely the worst Audible book I’ve had in many years.

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Great characters

Jonathan Coe does write our current milieu so well . His characters are nuanced and ferl real

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So predictable

Very little character development or story. It comes across as a list of notable historic events with a loose story woven around.

I started to like a couple of the characters towards the last couple of chapters. But a little too little a little too late for me.

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Everything Changes, Everything Stays the and Same

This is a novel that pivots for convenience around 7 national events in British History from 1945. I was alive to witness 5 of these, but VE Day and the Queen’s coronation were close enough to my childhood to make them feel very recent. The effect of these events is that they sew themselves into your own memories of the times, your experiences, broader events, feelings, the people around you – most especially your family and the social and political landscapes of the times. The families and relationships are drawn with such clear definition. The changes through time and the way that some essential things stay the same ring true in this novel and likely so in reflections on your own family histories. I questioned what a younger listener or reader would make of this wonderful book and whether it would be diminished, therefore. I do not think so, and this is about people. More than enough is given for everyone to make sense of events. I asked the same kind of question about the Bournville and wider Birmingham setting. The same applies, though it has to be said that there must be a dividend for those who can identify with the area. As someone born and brought up in Birmingham from 1954, places described had an increased vibrancy. The places I knew so well, the smell of chocolate in the air I could still remember… These were extremely potent in my own listening to and reading this novel. This create a dual-streaming where the novel interplayed with experienced past. In doing so it raised so many questions, prompts to compare, thoughts about “what if…” and so much more. At times it was quite unsettling, but the challenge was more than rewarding. Jonathan Coe’s liberal views, do not mean that harsh judgements and disappointments are not made plain. They naturally arise from the novel. One of the ‘scenes’ is the 75th anniversary of VE Day in 2020 within recent memory for every reader – it really does pull at the heart, and will do so for so many. But do not be misled; there is life, vibrancy, fun and so much to enjoy in this exceptional telling. On completing the novel I instantly ordered a print copy for one of my sisters with the strong recommendation that she read it and share it with widely with others; “You MUST read this!” The audio-book is well better than average, though I was disappointed that in the 'retelling' of radio and TV commentaries, the performer was unconvincing. I do not expect a mimic, but there is a tone, sometimes used, that is disagreeable. This is not enough to take away from this family experience from 1945 to 2020. There is treasure in this novel and one that will not fail to have listeners and readers interacting with it. Pleased and privileged to have experienced this novel. Listen or read Bournville, you will not be disappointed.

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Just fantastic

This book was everything that an audiobook should be. Not only was the story engaging, moving and funny, it was only enhanced by the fantastic reading. LOVED IT

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Enjoyable novel but very average narration

A good novel, which uses significant events in British history, from World War 2 to the first Covid lockdown, told through their impact on generations of one family. I like the way Coe sees the tiny, often poignant details of how these events impact ordinary lives.

The narrator was okay, but frequently mispronounced words, or got the stress wrong in sentences, which made it harder to get absorbed in the novel. But I’d still recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Coe’s previous novels.

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Another gem from the Coe repertoire

Coe’s work is a relatively recent discovery for me, and one I am glad to have made. Like his other works, this is a funny, honest and (in its final chapters) heartbreakingly poignant look into the British psyche, through the lens of the everyday life of the Lamb family. A testament to the tenacity and stoicism of the wartime generation, as well as a sad reflection on recent British history. Beautifully read as well.

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