THIS week, in preparation for the Salisbury Literary Festival, I’ve been reading an advance copy of Jonathan Coe’s brilliant new novel Middle England. The novel is actually published in early November but we’ve got hot off the press early copies to sell at his event in Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday, October 21, where he will be in conversation with one of Salisbury’s favourite sons, author Barney Norris.

Like many of Jonathan Coe’s books, Middle England is a heady mix of humour and politics, both skewering society at large and bringing the personal to life through razor sharp observations. He is one of those novelists capable of being a chronicler of our times: previous bestselling books The Rotters’ Club and What A Carve Up! told the story of Britain in the 1970s and 1980s respectively.

Middle England brings the British story bang up to date, beginning with the 2010 general election and taking the reader through the EU Referendum and beyond. Indeed, one advance quote from Sathnam Sanghera hails the book as ‘The first great Brexit novel’.

But while that description might make the novel sound heavy, a spoonful of satirical sugar is never far away. Coe tackles the bigger picture issues but does so in an individual way – one couple in the novel find they have voted for different sides in the referendum and end up in counselling to discuss it. The novel is interlaced with the way we live now, from garden centres to magazines about gadgets, transgender rights to speed awareness courses. As you would expect from a previous winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, the book is laugh out loud funny.

Comic fiction is a genre that doesn’t always get the acclaim that it deserves: it never gets its own space in the bookshop in the way that, say, crime or science fiction does. Yet technically, it’s one of the most difficult forms of writing to pull off. Writing comic material is never easy, but at least a stand-up or a sitcom writer has an audience to bounce their jokes off. Reading, however, is a one-on-one experience; to get someone to guffaw from the printed word alone is a harder task.

There are different ways that comic novelists tease the humour from a situation, but in all of them the key is the precision of the writing and in particular, the timing. The fact that Coe is publishing such a funny book at the precise moment we hit the crunch point of Brexit negotiations proves that he is a writer with perfect timing, twice over.

Jonathan Coe is in conversation with Barney Norris at Salisbury Cathedral on Sunday, October 21, 7.30pm. Tickets are available at