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2.9 out of 5 stars
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on 23 April 2002
Having read What a Carve Up, House of Sleep and, most recently, Rotter's Club I was quite looking forward to reading this. You can see that this is a Coe book, the borad themes of young adolescents, rights of passage, some form of academic institution and a writer / budding writer as a key character. However, unlike the other books, it was enormously difficult to have any sympathy whatsoever with any of the characters. More or less all of them needed to have their lapels shaken. To be honest, this made the book a real struggle. It wasn't as if there was much else there to enjoy. At least Carve Up and Rotters club were evocative for those of us old enough to remember the 70s. My advice: unless you (like me) obsess about reading all of an author's output (like some sad stamp collector) give this a wide berth.
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on 13 January 2005
Robin, the book's [anti-] hero, is an eternal student, making no progress on his thesis, but making a mess of his life in the meantime.
Almost as if it was written as the events occurred, one chapter at a time, with no sense of what would follow, the book flips back and forth from the narrative to Robin's short stories. Although well-written, it is almost self-consciously so, so that it doesn't let you flow with it, and although witty (in an ironic / sarcastic way) and funny in parts, it doesn't really allow you to laugh with it, as the overall feeling is rather sad.
This is not a book you'll regret reading, but it was a bit too melancholy for my liking, and definitely not up to the expectations I'd built up based on his previous boks.
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on 25 January 2010
A genuinely strange novel, both in terms of its structure (which goes off at unexpected tangents and includes four short stories written by one of the characters) and its mood (fairly bleak). If you are new to Coe, I would suggest you start with the amazing House of Sleep or What a Carve Up!.

This book will be of interest mainly to existing fans of the author. As someone else has noted, the characters (except, perhaps, for Emma and Hugh) are hard to care about, and Robin (the central figure) remains an enigma, although I'm sure this is the author's intention.

Coe seems to be tackling several Big Ideas:
- none of us can ever really know each other at all
- human relationships are flawed and often inexplicable
- life can seem random and cruel

He does a good job with these themes, but somehow it's just not as satisfying as his other novels.

One other thing: the cover picture is misleading. There is no young-woman-in-shades character. I suspect it has been designed after the success of Coe's The Rotters' Club and wrongly gives the impression that this book is a cheery comic romp.
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on 18 January 2010
Coe's strength is his ability to depict the provincial lower middle class, especially their discomfort in their own skin. It's possible to discern the origins of his style and preoccupations in this book, but it's clearly an early work, before Coe hit his more mature style. The story's content - about the unfulfilled romantic aspirations of an english-lit post-grad - also feels a bit immature; the older characters feel to me to how young people imagine middle-aged middle-class people feel, and it's a bit clunky.
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on 21 August 2015
I was a little disappointed by this novel, as I had hugely enjoyed The House of Sleep (and thoroughly recommend it), but this book didn't seem to fall into the same league. It was interesting in its way, and well written, but all the characters and their lives were pretty depressing and the story meandered a bit too much for me. I did get more into it as I went along, though, and particularly I found the short stories written by the main character - which gave an insight into his inner thoughts - quite a lot more interesting than the main story itself. Overall, I enjoyed this book to a point but felt a bit flat by the end. If you're new to Jonathan Coe, try one of his other books first.
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I've enjoyed the other novels from Jonathan Coe that I've come across (my favourite so far, with its exact evocation of 70's Britain and sympathetically drawn characters is The Rotters' Club), so I approached this one (his second, written in 1989) with some anticipation. It's a short tale about Robin, an unhappy graduate student in Coventry whose life is viewed through a few briskly sketched-in characters: an old acquaintance from Cambridge, a lawyer and a fellow student. In addition, we're shown four of Robin's four short stories which shed more light on his state of mind.

This is a well-written book, with deft changes in tone and vocabulary used for the voices of the different characters, and for Robin's stories. It gave me some sympathy for Robin's plight, but I found the ending to be a little too allusive and was left wondering what final effect the author had intended to create with this short, sad story. Perhaps I missed something along the way.
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on 6 April 2001
'A Touch of Love' is a deceptively simple book, quick to read yet with a lasting impact. I loved the multiple takes on the drop-out hero, seen through the eyes of friends and associates as well as through his own attempts at fiction.
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on 3 December 2000
Coe's shortish novel has a period feel about (set in Coventry in the mid-1980s with a late Cold War backdrop). It feels like another place. It's a satisfyingly constructed book and gives you that unsettling uncertainty of not quite knowing whether you are up with the story. It has much comedy and pathos and yet seems grim and resigned throughout. There seems also to be a listlessness about the characters and an anxiety about the author right up until the end when he demands a change of heart and that we all start to think. Coe's writing is always enjoyable - even in its hidden depths.
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on 24 September 2009
Not at all engaging, didn't care for the characters, gave up 14/15ths of the way through. Just couldn't be arsed any more. I quite liked Rotter's Club, but this was dull.
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