The Rotters' Club, by Jonathan Coe

The story of Benjamin Trotter and his family and friends, as they grow up in the 70s, progressing through school and preparing for university. I thought I'd treat myself to re-reading this book, since the sequel's out and has turned up from the library.

In the same way that What a Carve Up! evoked the 80s, this book brilliantly captures the zeitgeist of the 70s, and has especial resonance for someone like me, who was at school at the same time. Set against a background of industrial disputes, IRA pub bombings, and progressive rock music, Benjamin and his friends face their own problems: girlfriends, being a member of the right gang, having embarrassing families, etc.. The stuff about school is especially convincing, with silly nicknames and schoolboy pranks being described very believably.

This was the second time I'd read the book, so this time I was prepared for what happened to the Chick and the Hairy Guy: the first time I read that section I remember putting the book down and having to talk to someone about what had happened, I was so upset by it. But it retains an effective punch the second time through: while the book has comic elements, it can also pull you down to earth with a bump.

There is the suggestion of interlinked plot patterns in the book, but unlike "House of Sleep" and "What a Carve Up!", they don't all neatly get tied together at the end. However, although it's frustrating not knowing, for example, what really happened to Miriam, you don't get all the answers in real life either. It remains to be seen whether these loose ends are resolved in the sequel, but I sort of hope they don't.

The book was a joy to read, and I often found myself wanting to pause so that I wouldn't finish it too quickly. There were so many episodes that were memorable: the review of "Tales from Topographic Oceans"; the story of Ben's holiday in Denmark; and the time when Ben played Cicely a tape of his music and "tautened with excitement" as a key moment in the piece approached, only for her to miss it completely, was all too recognisable. Some of these don't seem entirely relevant to the "plot", but the whole thing is so well written that nothing seems out of place.

The book ends with a promise that the story will continue in a future volume. I remember when I first read that and felt a mixture of pleasure and frustration, but now I've got the second one and it's ready to go... can't wait!

Completed : 08-Oct-2004

Listened to the audiobook in 2007. A real treat to experience this book again. I'd remembered the main themes but forgotten a lot of the details, such as "Dickie's bag". The green coaster section with the really long sentence worked well I thought, and the theme of holding on to a moment for as long as possible was one that came up a few times in this book and the sequel.

Completed : 17-Apr-2007 (audiobook)

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