Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Coe for Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse... Well, not quite, not yet, but the Silly Season is upon us and incurable readers like me need lots of lovely books to help us through the silliness.

At this time of the year we want our reading matter to be relatively pain-free, not necessarily 'easy', but not too complicated, dark or depressing. (It's dark enough outside if you're living in the Northern Hemisphere.) We want books that are well-written, that goes without saying, gripping and convincing, preferably with a decent dose of humour.

I got lucky and kicked off the Festive Season with a book that meets all the above requirements. Jonathan Coe's The Closed Circle  is a sequel to his hilarious portrait of adolescence in the seventies in Britain, The Rotters' Club. You don't have to read the seventies novel before the sequel - set three decades later in Blair's New Labour Britain at the beginning of the 21st century - because Coe provides a synopsis of The Rotters' Club for those who have not read it, or have read it and (in the writer's own words) 'inexplicably forgotten it'. This tongue-in-cheek phrase from the Author's Note sets the tone for a satirical and entertaining novel, 'with a disturbing undertow of menace', according to the Literary Review.

I got aquainted with The Rotters' Club during a lazy summer week on a yacht off the Croatian coast last year and found it such perfect holiday reading that I promptly posted a blog about it ( Much to my delight I can now report  that the sequel is just as enjoyable and eminently suitable for the Silly Season. 'Intensely readable', is how Ian Rankin rates it - and he should know, having written some intensely readable books himself. I have to confess I still prefer the earlier novel, but then I'm a child of the seventies. I  could identify with everything depicted in The Rotters' Club, from the punk rock to the ugly brown wallpaper.

In The Closed Circle Benjamin Trotter and his old school friends are on the brink of middle-age: married, divorced, disillusioned and angst-ridden. Coe manages to achieve the same irresistable mix of politics and sensual pleasures, satire and seriousness, as in the earlier novel - and music once again plays a prominent role.  

The Rotters' Club, after all, is also the title of an album by the cult group Hatfield and the North. And one of the three sections of The Closed Circle is called High on the Chalk, inspired by a song with the same title from the album Beet, Maize and Corn by The High Llamas. Don't feel bad if you've never heard of these groups. Even my French partner, who's a walking encyclopedia of modern music and often listens to Hatfield and the North, had to admit he doesn't know The High Llamas.   

By the way, it's through my partner that I got to know Coe's work, only after I'd moved to France, where they adore him. He seems to be one of those English authors who are perhaps even more popular in France than in some Anglo-Saxon countries. So if you're still searching for something to read while you're digesting your Christmas turkey or trifle, I can assure you that most of his novels would make pretty good festive fare for the spirit: What a Carve Up!, The House of Sleep, The Dwarves of Death...

Season's Greetings to all readers out there - and may Santa bring you at least one great book this Christmas.


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