The Closed Circle

The closed circle by Jonathan Coe is the sequel to his best-seller The Rotters' Club. I adored The Rotters' Club having read it after seeing a brilliant serialisation on the BBC. It's a great coming-of-age tale with loads of nostalgia, a plot heavy on politics and music, yet surprisingly light, and incredibly funny. Having finished Rotters' Club I started straight into The Closed Circle, and didn't enjoy it very much. It felt much heavier than the first book, even though Rotters was about some very serious issues (1970s' racism, the Birmingham Pub bombings etc.), and Coe's comic touch seemed to have deserted him. So I put the book down after a few pages, and didn't look at it again until now.

And, I really enjoyed it. It's not as good as Rotters' Club, so reading them back-to-back is not a good idea, but put that aside and it is a very good satirical novel. Coe takes the knife this time to the Blair years, and scrapes away the veneer to what (if anything!) lies beneath. Like its predecessor The Closed Circle is very funny. There are some glorious laugh-out-loud moments.

What is very clever about both books is the way they interweave British social history into the fabric of the novel. Closed circle closes many narrative threads that had stayed open at the end of Rotters' Club, but it also extends social history threads as narrative, such as the effect of terrorism, and the changing face of British racism.

This makes it sound as though both novels will be heavy going, but in fact the opposite is true, brilliantly readable, Closed circle is like meeting up with old friends again after a long absence, and being amused, touched and sometimes shocked by the changes that the years have brought. Closed circle is probably better read after a previous reading of Rotters' Club, but Coe helpfully provides a detailed synopsis of the first novel, so that any non-Rotters readers will not be completely bewildered. Funny, moving, sometimes downright angry, and well-worth reading.


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