Wednesday, 31 December 2014

THE ROTTERS' CLUB by Jonathan Coe

So desperate am I for interesting things to read that I am reduced to reading second novels by authors whose first I did not enjoy. I didn't much like HOUSE OF SLEEP, but thought I might as well try THE ROTTERS' CLUB anyway, as it Coe's most famous novel, and, I figured, might represent one of those very common cases where an author only has one good book in them. This is after all one more good book than most people ever manage.

THE ROTTERS' CLUB is indeed a step up on HOUSE OF SLEEP. Again it follows a group of friends, but this time it is focused on high school - Birmingham in the 1970s, to be exact, but as always with novels of adolescence, it could be almost anywhere, at any time. Coe does a great job of creating a huge set of characters, each with an interesting arc, which is not an easy feat. The central character is Benjamin Trotter, who is wildly in love with a girl who is obviously terribly bad news. He gets her at last, prompting a chapter which is a single sentence of joy, apparently the longest in English literature, of 13,995 words.

The ending is a bit abrupt and dubious, with the narrator commenting: "But stories never end, do they? Not really. All you can do is choose a moment to end on." Many novels close with this kind of caveat, as if it is okay that the novel does not have a neat ending because, after all, life has no neat endings. This I fundamentally disagree with. Novels should be an improvement on life; and one of the key areas in which life needs improvement is in its chaotic, meaningless conclusion.

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