The Closed Circle

“Oh,” people said, “it’s not as good as The Rotters’ Club.”

It’s taken me two and a half years to get around to reading The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe. It sat on the to be read bookcase since 2006 but every time my finger hovered near it, the comments I’d heard made me pass it over in favour of other books.I finally pulled it off the shelf a couple of weeks ago.

The Closed Circle
Jonathan Coe
(Viking, 2004 edition)

I think a problem may be that The Rotter’s Club conjured up such vivid impressions of a time when the majority of the audience was a child or teenager, and we read it before Life on Mars sent John Simm back to a regional city in the 1970s.

Some readers may have found the lack of a nostalgic veneer a reason to find it ‘less good’ but I actually found the loose structure and sudden sverves of narrative more of a problem.  Whereas The Rotter’s Club raises childhood/teenaged ghosts, The Closed Circle is a swipe at C21st British politics and, as such, seems less measured.  One character, Munir, suddenly appears in order to make some passing politic points – and broadly brushed ones at that – before vanishing again. Writing about contemporary events and projecting very slightly into the future is a risk, and it’s one I’m not sure pays off as it feels like the novel was dashed out to make political points rather than having the precision of the first book.

There’s also a quite odd decision to allude to some things without naming them that  is both distracting and annoying. So Paul Trotter appears on “a satircal news quiz programme” where he is against “a young comedian” and “the editor of a satirical paper”. This is quite obviously Have I Got News For You?. This coyness could be put down to an attempt not to make the novel so contemporary it dates itself out of relevance within a couple of years of publication, if it were not for the fact it it also very expressly set between 2000 and 2004 with clear references to events of the time (just as The Rotter’s Club alluded to real political events of the 70s). And it name-drops real bars and restaurants in London such as Rules and Gordon’s Wine Bar. The inconsistancy of this kept dropping me out of engaging with the story.

Overall,  it is not as good as The Rotter’s Club.

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4 Responses to “The Closed Circle”

  1. Martijn Says:

    I was rather disappointed by the book (although I finished it in two evenings or so; it’s definitely something you want to finish once you’ve started it). It’s over-the-top in several ways and, worse, it makes The Rotter’s Club appear to be a novel that leaves many questions unanswered. I never read it that way!

    (The Rotter’s Club is a great introduction to England, by the way.)

  2. Mags Says:

    I find a lot of books are like that – compelling prose yet somehow dissatisfying over all.

    I think the Rotter’s Club does work as a self-contained piece. Yes, it’s nice for other characters to find out who kills someone but it works just as well with that detail remaining unresolved.

    I suspect it’s a very good insight to the culture many of us grew up in! Regional, decent but messy.

  3. Kitty Says:

    That is interesting! I read What a Carve Up, followed it with The House of Sleep, eagerly got my paws on The Rotter’s Club…

    …and didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the other two. I have been undecided on whether to tackle further works of J Coe, and if I do, I suppose now I shan’t be starting with the Closed Circle, at least.

    I did love The House of Sleep.

  4. moosifer jones' grouch » Blog Archive » The Rain Before It Falls Says:

    [...] time I read a Coe novel, I was disappointed with it. So this one sat on the to be read shelves for a couple of [...]


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