Jonathan Coe: The Rotters' Club (book review)

Vydáno dne 11.02.2009

An extensive review on Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club, taking place in Birmingham of the 1970s.

The Rotters' Club, first published in 2001, takes us to Birmingham in 1970s. We meet Benjamin Trotter, studying at the King William's school, and his family, friends and schoolmates. We also read stories of adults struggling for living and for their honour in the difficult political climate of those inquiet years. And the hard-to-get-through adult lives are interwoven with the teenagers' fragile stories and vivid imagination and innovative music where all their dreams and hopes are enchanted.

We see class diversities and difficult struggles for their erasure on one side, while tough nationalism on the other side is still resisting. Actually, it is a battle for future, and we are closely watching its victims, recruiting both from its winners and losers.

Between the lines

In The Rotters' Club, Jonathan Coe shows us British 1970s' politics surfacing in anxieties of ordinary people, fiercely influencing their lives and bringing them to resistance and struggle for better life conditions.

Storylines of individual characters grow through the thick air of 1970s England society to make cracks in it but to finally strengthen, grip the mass of the fraction of history and make it solid, unbreakable and a foundation for the land's upcoming years, becoming a well to draw the vitalizing water from.

Throughout the book, little actions make the life go and radically change direction, like a sugar lump dropped in a cup of coffee which makes you spoil your suit, ask a waitress for a napkin and discover that her eyes are so beautiful that you would fall in a lifetime gloom and die in endless pain of loneliness if you woudn't have asked her out for dinner. Butterfly effect. A chain of domino tiles.

Veils of sweet adolescent unknowingness get violently torn apart by far-too-early discoveries of adult-world pains and treacheries (youth, in fact, turns out not as sweet, easy and carefree as people say). Hopes of either adults or teenagers are forcibly and irretrievably broken, heart fractures never again to be cured.

Coe's writing style

Jonathan Coe is not only doing the craft to make his living, he is living through his figures, writing vividly through their stories, feeling probably the same pain and joy as themselves would.

In his fragile and yet so real story, he reveals love so profound that it brings you to the keen edge between the infinite bliss of the moment and the agony of even the most volatile flicker of a migt-lose-it thought.

Meanwhile, Coe's writing is amazingly refreshing. In his shaker, he puts several writing styles to fix a remarkably strong coctail which will keep your senses alert and your heart open, naked, and hypersensitive. Coe is a skilled wordsmith and will not let you get out of astonishment, snitching breath right out of your lips. He is switching between characters' points of view permanently, leaving a bitter taste of elusiveness of a moment as well as of any solid opinion. There is simply no general truth to seize. And this is what makes the reader think permanently and to dive in the sea of doubts to catch an entire understanding, by sense, not by brain.

One of the Coe's write styles, used in the last but one chapter, reminded me of the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. The chapter consists of a single sentence, thus expressing feverish thoughts of Benjamin's excited mind.

Short biography

Jonathan Coe is a British writer. He was born in 1961, which may play a great role in the book in consideration, as the author himself was a teenager in the years when the novel takes place.

There is also a sequel to The Rotters' Club, The Closed Circle, first published in 2004.

Another masterpiece of this author you might possibly know or want to read is a wonderful prose called The House Of Sleep (1997). If you still hesitate whether to try this book, note that it is also an exciting, impressive read.

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