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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Does narrative serve any purpose? I wonder about that."
In this novel of enormous reach, Coe attempts to give epic significance to the 1970's in Birmingham, England. Abandoning the extremely tight, limited focus he employed in The House of Sleep, Coe here employs a huge cast of characters, eight or ten of them teenagers (somewhat difficult to keep track of because they are not yet fully formed or unique), along with their...
Published on 10 Nov 2002 by Mary Whipple

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It all starts so well�.
TRC is like the rhyme of the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead- when it is good it is very, very good but when it is bad it is horrid! TRC suffers from Coe not only trying to tackle head-on most of the dominant issues of the seventies through a quite ordinary group of characters but dabbles in short story territory (the tale of the Danish Jews)...
Published on 1 Feb 2003 by Alex Magpie


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It all starts so well�., 1 Feb 2003
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
TRC is like the rhyme of the little girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead- when it is good it is very, very good but when it is bad it is horrid! TRC suffers from Coe not only trying to tackle head-on most of the dominant issues of the seventies through a quite ordinary group of characters but dabbles in short story territory (the tale of the Danish Jews) and annoying literary styles (Ben's inner turmoil near the end). Added to this is the sickeningly sweet and unfinished end that pretty well tricks the reader.
At the same time, however, it is perhaps premature to criticise TRC unduly until the sequel has been read with it- perhaps it will create a better sense of closure on the plot lines that are left open. To TRC's rescue Coe's humour in this book is spot on and he makes the most of the bizarre nature of teenage years whilst not skimping on the lows as well as the highs.
Nevertheless, the three or four main characters of the book- that of the boys- seem very similar to each other for the first ten or so chapters and it is easy to get them mixed up in your mind. If Coe had concentrated more on developing them earlier on it would have been far more entertaining to catch their antics earlier on than constantly having to flick back to see who's who. It is also badly managed to make Ben the main character near the end of the book- it lends the question- what about the others?
TRC suffers from an annoying future pro and epilogue that adds little to the ambience and story line and takes away the sense of placement that the focus on the seventies throughout the rest of the novel tries to create.
The worst aspect of the book though has got to be the character of Cicely and the whole relationship between her and Ben. We know she is an unpleasant person and is merely good looking from passages of the book so Ben's idolization of her and her sudden emergence as a "good" character is unrealistic and for her to share the "happy ending" just felt wrong. Coe is never very sensitive in his portrayal of female characters (except, perhaps, in The Accidental Woman) but to create such an empty space, as Cicely is very bad form. It feels very much as though Coe is trying to produce his fantasy woman and make her fall in love with the character that represents him.
TRC is a very misjudged novel- instead of the dark realism and surrealism of What A Carve Up! or the human insight of The Accidental Woman we are left with a very good look at the seventies with superfluous plot devices and characters thrown in. A shorter, purely nostalgic and political book with no sequel would have worked much better than attempting an epic like exercise on somewhat flimsy material. I would recommend, to someone who has not read any Coe books before, to start with his early work and work forwards.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Does narrative serve any purpose? I wonder about that.", 10 Nov 2002
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
In this novel of enormous reach, Coe attempts to give epic significance to the 1970's in Birmingham, England. Abandoning the extremely tight, limited focus he employed in The House of Sleep, Coe here employs a huge cast of characters, eight or ten of them teenagers (somewhat difficult to keep track of because they are not yet fully formed or unique), along with their parents and their parents' lovers, their brothers and sisters and the brothers' and sisters' lovers, and their teachers and some of their lovers.
Starting with a meeting in 2003 between the adult children of some of the characters from the 1970's, the novel switches back and forth in time through several different points of view, offering insights about what has happened in the interim. The teenagers' lives are depicted in minute detail as they work on school magazines, collect new rock albums, create their own bands, score with girlfriends, and do all the superficial things teenagers do the world over, told from the well-developed, if not particularly compelling, perspective of the '70's.
Coe can be very funny, and his view of teenage life is often amusing, but the teenagers also reveal their intolerance of differences, their casual cruelty, doubts about religion, ignorance of the political system, and general insulation from the forces which are shaping their world. Their parents' lives are completely separate from their children's, dealing with union vs. management issues, Labour vs. Tory political goals, a stagnant economy, resentment over immigration, IRA activity, some anti-semitism, and a belief that their dreams probably will not come true. These huge and important themes seem a bit jarring when juxtaposed against the superficial, day-to-day activities of the teenagers who are the main characters.
Coe has enormous, very obvious talents, but this book feels fragmented, with too many characters pursuing too many different ends, the ultimate goal seeming to be the recreation of the entire sociopolitical history of 1970's Birmingham. At the end of 400+ pages of this book, Coe himself states that a second volume will continue this story, perhaps the author's acknowledgment that his reach has exceeded his grasp with this one. Mary Whipple
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars High expectations - very average delivery, 14 Mar 2001
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Hardcover)
Like the other reviewers (and as a huge Coe fan) I was disappointed by his latest. He does indeed manage to get under the skin of Birmingham in the mid to late 70's. The area where Ben and his friends live is somewhere I used to visit frequently when I was their age and much of his description resonated with my own memories.
Being about the same age as Coe, I knew what was going to happen when Lois and Malcolm planned their night out to the Tavern in the Town. What was curious was that he failed to convey the subsequent horror and outrage that spread across the city for months afterwards. Ben's family seemed to be entirely unaffected by the episode, taking off to Denmark for a family holiday without any mention of poor Lois.
So many of the plot-lines disappear altogether when they could have been developed into some really interesting themes (e.g. when Cicely's uncle expresses his hatred of the English and admiration for the IRA, Ben simply says "It's a point of view" and that is the end of the matter.)
One of the delightful features of Coe's writing is that he uses magnificently inventive devices to break up the narrative (such as the wonderfully mixed up review with footnotes in House of Sleep) and he tries to do the same here, but somehow fails to bring it off. The school mag is just a little too polished and obviously authored by a professional writer and the curious decision not to use paragraphs in the final chapter (presumebly in an effort to convey Ben's giddiness) compounded the feeling that he was just galloping towards a conclusion. For the last 15 minutes, I was feeling 'let's just get this thing over with' and that tended to overshadow some of the more enjoyable moments from earlier chapters.
I wasn't aware that there was going to be a sequel. Had I known this, I might not have been so inclined to think that Coe was struggling to meet a publishers deadline and had just given up on the end of the plot.
Will I buy the sequel? Of course.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 18 Jun 2001
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book enormously. I suppose the world it describes - Britain in the mid 1970s - will be about as remote as that of Jane Austen to anyone under the age of thirty - but it captures my memories of the era perfectly.
Some reviewers have queried the handling of the political content, but personally I thought it was integrated well with the rest of the book.
Overall - an excellent attempt to capture the feeling of what it was like to be adolescent.
Most reviewers have either ignored the references to music of the period or just followed the usual cliches - "70s, era of flares, lava lamps and ludicrous music," etc. etc. I thought that Jonathan Coe dealt much more carefully with the music of the time - poking fun at Yes, enjoying The Clash, but quite happy to accept that, like most musical forms, Progressive Rock had plenty of good as well as bad.
Above all, it is clear that he has a great and lasting affection for the music of Hatfield & The North, whose second album gave the book its title. it would be nice if one result of this book's success was to make a few more people discover the Hatfield's music, whose merit was neglected even in the 1970s! Anyone who likes the music will certainly enjoy the book. I can't guarantee that anyone who liked the book will enjoy the music, but why not give it a try.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful...to a point, 12 April 2002
By 
Clive Pacey (london) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
Being almost exactly the same age as the author, the pangs of recognition throughout this entertaining read were almost painful. Often very funny and sometimes touching, the large array of characters are well managed and generally clearly defined.
However, without giving too much away, the last quarter of the book was, to me anyway, rather overdramatic and spoiled but the unnecessary intervention of a boring celtic nationlist, the point of which remained unclear
perhaps given that there is to be a sequel, the reader should have been left gasping for more rather than rushing through the last few pages, but this shouldnt put anyone off for the most part, a lovely read
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 1970s were OK, actually, 26 Jun 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
As someone who is almost exactly the same age as Jonathan Coe I thought The Rotters Club was the best representation of the 1970s I have ever read. I am surprised by all the reviews that describe it as a horrific era and I disagree. Every era has a downside (the 1980s and 90s were not exactly golden ages) and in many ways the 70s were innocent pre-Thatcher times. My teenage school years were extremely similar to those described in this book and the central characters bore a startling resemblance to my boyfriends of that time. Maybe I need to remove the rosy specs but I had a fantastic time during those years and Coe's description of the excitement at the advent of punk took me back like no TV retrospective ever could (even with pictures!). Having endured years of homage to the music and fashion of the 1970s, implying that it was awash with glitter and disco fever, it was with great relief that I read this novel with its more sensitive and realistic perspective. I was particularly charmed by the accuracy of the details: flirting on the school bus, Adidas sports bags, record bags, Roll-up Reg, etc. Perhaps post 80s and 90s and consumerama it is impossible to imagine what it was like if you didnt live at that time. I now work in fashion in London and it seems bizarre to remember that I practically only owned two pairs of jeans, two T-shirts and one jumper through the whole of that decade. That was all I needed. Anyway I loved the character of Ben Trotter and would like to marry him. Goodbye to freaks, hairies, soulboys and punks.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Very Maws of Doom, 24 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
"The Rotters' Club" was first published in 2001, and went on to win Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. It's set in 1970s Birmingham, and incorporates a number of real-life people, places and events into the back-story - including the Birmingham Pub Bombing (which led to the imprisonment of the Birmingham Six), the infamous British Leyland plant, the Unions and the inevitable strikes, Enoch Powell, the National Front and various other similar factions and the changes in musical fashion - most notably, from prog to punk rock.

The book tells the story of Ben Trotter's life at secondary achool, and opens in 1973. Ben has one older sister, Lois, and a younger brother, Paul and all three attend King Williams School - quite a prestigious establishment, though seen as a school for "toffs" by the city's working class. Of Ben's two siblings, Lois is much more likeable - and, as it turns out, a great deal more unfortunate. She starts dating Malcolm - generally just referred to as 'Hairy Guy' - shortly after the book opens. (Hairy Guy proves to be a big influence on Ben's musical taste). Paul, Ben's younger brother, generally tends to be a poisonous, spiteful brat. Among Ben's friends at school are Philip Chase, Duggie Anderton and Sean Harding. Like Ben's father, Duggie's father also works at British Leyland. However, where Ben's father is management, Duggie's father is a shop steward for the Union and a committed socialist. Ben, like every other boy at school, is hopelessly in love with Cicely Boyd. It's a pity, really, as he would have been much better off with the very likeable Claire Newman. (Meanwhile, Claire's sister - Miriam - is having an affair with Duggie's dad as the book opens).

The story is mostly told by Sophie - Ben's neice and Lois' daughter - looking back to the 1970s. Occasionally, some of the characters tell part of the story in their own words - a short story by Ben himself, a speech given by Duggie, sections of Lois' diary, the editorials of the school newspaper - even, at one point, a letter written to Ben by another character. On the whole it is a very readable, very enjoyable book - the only sections that disn't work for me were the introduction and the conclusion - featuring Sophie and Patrick. (In fact, the introduction was so bad I nearly didn't bother with the rest of the book). The book also, apparently holds the record for the longest sentence in English literature - Coe would've been better off just using punctuation, and forgetting about the record books, but it's not really that big a deal. Good enough for me to keep an eye out for its sequel - "The Closed Circle", which was released in 2004 and picks up the story in 1990s.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh My God, 29 May 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
This is the First of Jonathan Coe's books I have read and I must say I was not ready for what I found myself addicted to. After all the "Chick Lit" I have read I wanted something different to get into, and boy did I find it. I was born mid 70's and have never been interested really in the history of England, regardless of which era, but having read The Rotters Club I have found myself looking deep into the history of British industry and oddly enough the IRA bombing campain of that time.
For any book to stir that much interest in me it has to be good. I found it hard to read at times and was a little lost with the characters for the first 100 pages or so, but as the lives of all the characters came together -and they were linked supremely- I found myself unable to put it down. Just as I thought I had the book worked out it would slap me round the face again and again. I laughed, I cried and I sat in shock a couple of times, what a reaction. The only bad point was that it had to end but even that was made better by the promise of a follow up book. All i can say is stick with it. Its worth every second of your time.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Just Falls Short, 21 May 2008
By 
Mr. Peter Steward "petersteward" (Norwich, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
I really thought I was going to like this book after the first page which made me chuckle. It's 2003 in Berlin. Two young people are sitting down to dinner and talking about their parents. One asks the other where he thinks they have gone. "Clubbing, probably. Checking out the techno places," says one. "Are you serious?" comes the reply. "Of course not. My dad's never been to a club in his life. The last album he bought was by Barclay James Harvest." "Who" "Exactly."

Now as anybody who knows me will testify I am more than a bit partial to BJH, as I would suggest the author is to have brought it up. And of course at the height of their career BJH were massive in Germany and in particular Berlin.

I suppose the fact that this is the most memorable part of the book rather shows that I found it disappointing. For me the early 1970s were wonderful years. Years when the world was changing in a strange and marvellous way. Coe tries to evoke this world but sadly falls rather short of doing so successfully.

The fact it took me three months to finish the book, probably says it all as time after time I lost patience and gave up. It must be said, however, that there was an attraction that made me return, but it wasn't a strong enough rights of passage book to make me want to read the sequel The Closed Circle.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A work in progress, 6 Jun 2004
By 
Keith D. Gumery (Philadelphia, PA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
Like many reviewers here, I also grew up in Birmingham - Coe and I are also the same age (within a few months). I found the book brought back a lot of memories and uncomfortable squirming. I agree that the book tends to meander and grow tangential, but knowing Coe's work and that fact that this is a "volume one" work that is to be continued, I believe that all will be pulled together and relevance will be revealed as we moved forwards.
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The Rotters' Club
The Rotters' Club by Jonathan Coe (Paperback - 19 Mar 2002)
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