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The Closed Circle: A Novelby Jonathan Coe
Synopses & Reviews
The characters of The Rotters' Club — Jonathan Coe's nostalgic, humorous evocation of adolescent life in the 1970s — have bartered their innocence for the vengeance of middle age in a story that is very much of the moment, charged with such issues as 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.
On New Year's Eve of 1999, with Tony Blair presiding over a glossy new version of Britain, Benjamin Trotter watches the celebration on television in the same Birmingham house where he'd grown up. Watches, in fact, his younger brother Paul, now a member of Parliament and a rising star of New Labour, glad-handing his way through the festive crowd at the Millennium Dome. Neither of them could guess their lives are about to implode.
Paul begins an affair with his young assistant, soon realizes he has made the fatal mistake of falling in love with her, then is threatened with exposure by Doug Anderton, a journalist who happens to be one of his oldest schoolboy enemies. At the same time, Benjamin and his friend Claire, still haunted by memories almost thirty years old, make a desperate attempt to break free of the past, if only to escape the notion that their happiest years are behind them.
As Cool Britannia is forced to address its ongoing racial and social tensions — and as its role in America's "war on terrorism" grows increasingly compromised — The Closed Circle shuttles between London and Birmingham, where fat cats, politicos, media advisers, and protesters in both locales lay bare an era when policy and PR have become indistinguishable. Meanwhile, its rich cast of characters contends with startling revelations about their youth and the pressing, perennial problems of love, vocation, and family.
"The Rotter's Club (2002), Coe's witty novel of teenage schoolmates growing up in 1970s Birmingham, England, introduced an expansive cast of characters. With echoes of Anthony Trollope and Anthony Powell, this wonderful, compulsively readable sequel explores the adults those young people became — it opens in 1999 and closes in 2003 — and paints a satirical but moving portrait of life at the turn of the century. Claire Newman still mourns her sister, who vanished without a trace in The Rotters' Club. Benjamin Trotter still mourns his one true (teenage) love. His brother, Paul, is an ambitious member of Parliament in 'Blair's Brave New Britain.' Doug Anderton and Philip Chase became journalists, and the first book's other characters all reappear in some way or another (along with flashbacks to many of their teenage escapades). Coe cleverly works real events into the plot — London's Millennium Eve, the possible shutdown of a British auto manufacturer, the war in Iraq. The theme, as in The Rotters' Club, concerns the conflicts and connections between individual decisions and societal events, but while Coe's political sensibility is readily apparent, this novel, with its incredibly well developed characters and its immensely engaging narrative, is no polemical tract. It's a compelling, dramatic and often funny depiction of the way we live now — both savage and heartfelt at the same time." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[An] extremely readable sequel....Coe's narrative voice is pleasingly intimate, as though he were inviting his readers into the 'closed circle' referenced in the title, urging them to lean close and then closer." Booklist
"[An] acid, bitingly funny portrait of early-21st century Britain....A pleasing modern-day addition to the venerable lineage of the English social novel, easily the equal of Trollope or Galsworthy, though without the imaginative fire of Dickens." Kirkus Reviews
"This politically incisive sequel may be read and enjoyed independently, but fans of the earlier novel will be rewarded by the welcome return of an engaging cast of characters and the resolution of outstanding mysteries. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"[S]atire of a high order — and often laugh-out-loud funny — but Coe has also fashioned a movingly human novel with a cast of fully realized characters and an immense narrative tapestry of events....It's by far the best novel to date for this talented author..." San Francisco Chronicle
"[A]n immensely satisfying sequel....Coe is a witty writer with a talent for social satire that singes characters without burning away their humanity....[A] particularly easy sequel to enter." Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"[A]s witty and acerbic as Evelyn Waugh's war trilogy — Coe, as I've written elsewhere, is a kind of Waugh on the left: publicly ruthless, yet finally a little more merciful to his characters." Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times
"The symmetries developed between this novel and its predecessor appear more intricate and abstract the longer you reflect on them, and yet...much of the novel has a free-form, improvised quality. The effect is odd but also charming: sometimes bathetic, sometimes sublime." The New York Times Book Review
The adolescent characters of The Rotter's Club now face the vengeance of middle age in a story very much of the moment, charged with such issues as 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
About the Author
Jonathan Coe's awards include the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger, the Prix Médicis Etranger, and, for The Rotters' Club, the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Writing. He lives in London with his wife and their two daughters.
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