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The Closed Circle Paperback – 26 Jun 2014
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"With boundless energy and a cheerful capaciousness . . . Coe gives us a meditation on the consequences of terrorism, an examination of the post-9/11 political zeitgeist, a satire of everything from book reviewers to modern parenting, and a contemporary version of Anthony Powell's sprawling masterpiece, "A Dance to the Music of Time." --Elizabeth Judd, "The Atlantic Monthly ""The Rotters' 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. 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 "[With] often-biting cultural commentary on, for example, cell phones and SUV's . . . 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." --Joanne Wilkinson, "Booklist "Highlyrecommended . . . This politically inspired sequal 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 resoluation of outstanding mysteries." --Barbara Love, "Library Journal "The sharp eye for the socioeconomic landscape that distinguished Coe's previous outing is also quickly evident here . . . But the real point here is Coe's acid, bitingly funny portrait of early-21st century Britain, where the cradle-to-grave welfare state has been abandoned as 'a now comically outdated democratic ideal' and cab drivers knowledgably discuss varieties of wine . . . A pleasing, modern-day addition to the venerable lineage of the English social novel, easily the equal of Trollope or Galsworthy." --"Kirkus "A richly comic, entertaining novel . . . "The Closed Circle is a masterly portrayal of our ruling classes [and] a fine comedy with a disturbing undertow of menace." --Sebastian Shakespeare, "Literary Review ""The Closed Cirlce is terrific . . . Coe creates an incisive portrait of Britain at the turn of the century, with the private shenanigans of these characters set against the turn of real events: Millennieum Eve, the threatened closure of the Longbridge car factory, 11 September, war with Iraq, and even Nigella Lawson licking her fingers on TV." --Olivia Glazebrook, "Spectator "["The Closed Circle] has an up-to-the minute topicality that most writers shy away from, but it allows Coe to hone in savagely on his "betes noires . . . Coe has succeeded in accomplishing that rare feat: a pair of novels that combine the addictive quality of the best soap operas with a basic culturalintegrity." --Richard Mason, "The Independent "From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
This is a rare book that has withstood repeated readings over many years. I'm surprised that some of the other reviews on here are less favourable, but I guess not everything resonates with every person and that's okay.
I'm an unpublished novelist and this book reminds me of what I'm doing it for. It's honest, beautifully written, funny and redemptive without avoiding the harsh truths of life, and if I ever write anything half this good it will all have been worthwhile. Jonathan Coe at his luminescent best.
Some patterns repeat. Steve, for example, who was left in a sticky position at the end of the previous volume but who had (through hard work between the books) reestablished himself, is again down, this time because of the antics of a serial company wrecker. This is an example of "The Closed Circle" addressing some very up to date themes - the Iraq war, privatisation of Government services, racism - as "The Rotters' Club" did the politics of the 70s.
It is though difficult to compare the treatment of the two periods. With the 70s, a lot of effort went in to evoking a form of nostalgia (and a period based comedy) alongside the grimness. That just isn't possible with the later period, though Coe tries by having Claire, who has returned from Italy, muse on driving behaviour and the craze for meeting over coffee. This opens up a contrast between the mood of the two books, with the later one undoubtedly gloomier. I think it is a better book for that - more straightforward, more thoughtful. To judge by other reviews here, many will disagree with that.
The main character in the latter was Benjamin, and remains so in this sequel, if only because his friends constantly worry about him. He remains rooted in the past and is a rather pathetic figure, unable to recognise that his ground-breaking ‘masterpiece’ novel is unpublishable (even if he were ever to finish it), still pining for his lost love, the beautiful Cicely, even though he is married to Emily, a fringe member of the school friends. He is forever trying to ‘find’ himself. One of the least interesting sections of the book is when he spends some time ‘healing’ himself as a guest in a French monastery. Incidentally, here he meets another guest, an English businessman who specialises in running down companies and walking away with a huge pension. He appears very briefly elsewhere in the book. Their meeting in an obscure monastery has little relevance to the story, but is just one of several unbelievable coincidences that occur in the book.
The other characters have developed into adults with varying degrees of success. Claire, divorced from Philip, has returned from Italy where she worked as a freelance translator, leaving behind her married lover; Philip, remarried, is in Birmingham working as a local journalist; Doug has married a rich beautiful aristocrat and is a writer on a London newspaper; Steve, the only black pupil at the school, is an industrial chemist; and Benjamin's brother Paul, once an avid admirer of Mrs Thatcher, is now an ambitious, rather smug, New Labour politician. Nevertheless many of them are frustrated by a nagging thought that their life, and modern life in general, is unsatisfactory and they may have ‘missed out’ in some way. This is of course the author’s opinion, but he sometimes projects it via his characters in an off-putting way.
Into this old mix comes an entirely new character, a beautiful young woman, improbably called Malvina, who is destined to have a profound effect on several of their lives, particularly Benjamin and Paul. Along the way several loose ends are tidied up and more links in the ‘closed circle’ forged: who drugged Steve before his A-Levels; what happened to the school joker Harding, aka ‘Sir Arthur Pusey-Hamilton’ of the school magazine; why and how Claire’s sister Miriam disappeared; and who exactly is Malvina.
As in his other books, politics also play an important role in this one, but unlike in ‘The Rotters’ Club’ they do not appear as naturally in the story. Coe obviously feels strongly about serious issues like the second Gulf War, but in this book they are thrust upon the reader and it often reads more like a political pamphlet than a novel. So instead of reasoned argument we have stock characters and situations we can all despise, such as unprincipled venal politicians, greedy company directors, etc. He also manipulates his characters so that he can make critical points about aspects of modern life such as reality TV, tabloid magazines, aggressive driving etc. They are often too contrived to be convincing, to the detriment of the story.
Overall, this book is worth reading to ‘close the circle’, and still contains some very humorous sections, but it is not as satisfactory as ‘The Rotters’ Club’.