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Jonathan Coe’s choice of the comic in his novels becomes a political statement that derives its force from the destabilising power that humour can exert over the representation of reality and dominant narratives. I will argue that his comic approach is indebted to transgressive forms of humour ranging from surrealism to the absurd, and drawing on elements of defamiliarisation and distancing to highlight reflexivity. Coe plays the contradictions of humour against themselves, providing entertainment through the comic, while simultaneously enhancing the grotesque in order to counter any potential numbing efffect. For that matter, Coe’s fictions resemble the convention of the freak show, with the readers transformed into self-aware, uncomfortable voyeurs, who are asked to reevaluate their place in relation to the narrative. This paper will analyse a selection of such grotesque moments in Coe’s novels as the writer’s attempt to present a distorted and deformed reality which becomes itself the standard of normalcy. The political then would emerge from acknowledging that the comic grotesque becomes the norm rather than the exception, allowing for a space of tolerance and ethical response towards otherness.

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Vanessa Guignery
Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the ENS de Lyon and member of the Institut Universitaire de France in Paris.
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