Jonathan Coe’s first three novels, The Accidental Woman (1987), A Touch of Love (1989) and The Dwarves of Death (1990), seem to echo B.S. Johnson’s dictum that the novel should ‘try simply to be Funny, Brutalist, and Short’ (1973a, 165). In interviews, Coe can be unjustly harsh about his early production and regularly points out that his first novel was rejected many times by agents and publishers. He gives the number of copies sold for each book (around 300 for each in hardback), considering The Dwarves of Death to be his weakest novel and remarking that: ‘My first three novels had been very pinched and constrained’ (2011). Philip Tew argues for his part that Coe’s early fiction ‘combines a reflexive, self-aware experimentation with a blend of caricature and satirical, ironic distance’ (2008, 47). This aptly captures the specific mode, tone and mood of these novels, all set in the bleak and dreary atmosphere of Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, but frequently illuminated by bouts of fierce humour and farcical comedy. Among the common features of these three novels are the characterization of most protagonists as placid and hapless, the dark humour, the use of self-reflexivity and deconstruction of narrative conventions, as well as the reflexions on memory and the relativity of truth.
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