The Closed Circle, by Jonathan Coe

The continuing story of Benjamin Trotter et al, as started in The Rotters' Club. This book is set in the '90s: by now the characters are middle-aged, and life has turned out very differently from what they expected when they were preparing to start university.

After The Rotters' Club ended so happily for Benjamin, it was perhaps inevitable that things would go downhill. The structure of the story, where we pick up the narrative after a fifteen-year gap, means that we only find out what went wrong when the events are a distant memory: by this time Benjamin has become more-or-less resigned to his situation and so we are spared the trauma that he must have suffered. But he appears as an all-too-convincing character who's not realised the potential that was evident in the first book. It's rather like finding out from friendsreunited that the classmate you thought was on-course to be a brain-surgeon ended up as an estate agent.

In the same way that What a Carve Up! satirised the Thatcher years, this book rather has it in for Blair and company. Paul, Benjamin's younger brother, has become a Labour MP, and is a caricature of New Labour, with his designer clothes and questionable moral values. The 9/11 tragedy and Iraq war feature in the story, and Coe highlights what he presumably sees as the incomprehensibility of Blair's willingness to go to war. I sometimes wondered in fact whether the events in the book are a bit too current to be incorporated into this kind of fiction, but it makes for a satisfying read (for someone who's also confused as to what Blair thought he was doing).

I feel mixed emotions about the way that so many loose ends were tied up in this book. In a way I'd like some to have been left, but on the other hand the way that things were resolved made it appear that the overall pattern of the story had been in Coe's mind during the time he wrote the first book. And it does seem that the books are very much part of a whole.

This was another fantastic read, laugh-out-loud funny as well as sad, and again I was struggling not to finish it because I was enjoying it so much. Being critical, perhaps some of the themes were a bit unsubtle, and he made things appear a bit more black-and-white than they really are, but it was such an entertaining read that it's very hard to find fault.

Completed : 14-Oct-2004

Listened to the audiobook in 2007, straight after listening to the first one. I think doing them both together works fine, although I'm not sure the second book is quite as good as the first: I think it is a bit too long in parts (hard to say that I want less Jonathan Coe, but I think perhaps a little bit of editing might have helped). In fact it's longer (at least more CDs) than the first book, which surprised me.

I found Paul to be a more sympathetic character than I'd expected/remembered. But not a lot. The way that the characters had aged, and Benjamin had gone from being someone with such apparent promise to a middle-aged man with a mundane life was all too believable. I liked the way thought that he when he got back with Cicely in the end, relatively little was said about how things worked out for them; just a few off-hand remarks gave you a picture of their lives.

Completed : 27-Apr-2007 (audiobook)

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