Summary and book reviews of The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe

The Closed Circle

By Jonathan Coe

The Closed Circle
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2005,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2006,
    384 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

High on the Chalk
Etretat
Tuesday, 7th December, 1999
Morning

Sister Dearest,

The view from up here is amazing, but it's too cold to write very much. My fingers can barely hold the pen. But I promised myself I'd start this letter before returning to England, and this really is my last chance.

Last thoughts, then, on leaving the European mainland? On coming home?

I'm scouring the horizon and looking for omens. Calm sea, clear blue sky. Surely that has to count for something.

People come up here to kill themselves, apparently. In fact there's a boy further down the path, standing dangerously close to the edge, who looks as though he may be planning to do exactly that. He's been standing there for as long as I've been on this bench and he's only wearing a T-shirt...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Jumping forward 3 decades, Coe revisits the cast of his 2001 novel, The Rotters Club, all grown up. Life has been pretty good to a few of them, such as Paul Trotter, now a member of Blair's "New Labour" Party, but others have not done so well and some still carry the angst of their teen years. As before, Coe explores the connections and conflicts between individual decisions and society as a whole.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The Independent - Richard Mason

[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 cultural integrity.

Publishers Weekly

... a compelling, dramatic and often funny depiction of the way we live now-both savage and heartfelt at the same time.

Kirkus Reviews

A pleasing modern-day addition to the venerable lineage of the English social novel, easily the equal of Trollope or Galsworthy, though without the imaginative fire of Dickens.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

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.

Library Journal - Barbara Love

This politically incisive sequel 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 resolution of outstanding mysteries. Highly recommended.

The Spectator - Olivia Glazebrook

The Closed Circle 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.

The Atlantic Monthly - Elizabeth Judd

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

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

Media-hungry Paul is surely Coe's most brilliant satirical creation; he's the epitome of the modern conservative disguised as a liberal, publicly noncommittal and vacuous but privately devoted to dismantling government for the profit of a brave, new oligarchy.

The New York Times - Jenny Turner

Patrick and Sophie want ''nothing more from life . . . than the chance to repeat the mistakes their parents had made''; but the world, Coe writes, is still deciding whether to allow them even that. It's always going to be risky, trying to make lasting fiction from very recent history. But this image gets the balance beautifully, as tank traps are laid around the British Embassy and the young lovers, oblivious, walk on.

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Beyond the Book

Jonathan Coe was born in Birmingham in 1961 and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He has taught English Poetry at Warwick and worked as a professional musician, writing music for jazz and cabaret.

He is the author of about 6 novels including The Rotters' Club (2001) which is set in Birmingham during the 1970s and tells the story of a group of school friends working on the school magazine. It was adapted for BBC Television in 2005. He is also the author of ...

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