The Rotters' Club
The Rotters' Club
Penguin Books Ltd, Paperback, 19 March, 2002
Author: Jonathan Coe
ISBN: 014029466X
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Customer Reviews

The Very Maws of Doom
"The Rotters' Club" was first published in 2001, and went on to win Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. It's set in 1970s Birmingham, and incorporates a number of real-life people, places and events into the back-story - including the Birmingham Pub Bombing (which led to the imprisonment of the Birmingham Six), the infamous British Leyland plant, the Unions and the inevitable strikes, Enoch Powell, the National Front and various other similar factions and the changes in musical fashion - most notably, from prog to punk rock.

The book tells the story of Ben Trotter's life at secondary achool, and opens in 1973. Ben has one older sister, Lois, and a younger brother, Paul and all three attend King Williams School - quite a prestigious establishment, though seen as a school for "toffs" by the city's working class. Of Ben's two siblings, Lois is much more likeable - and, as it turns out, a great deal more unfortunate. She starts dating Malcolm - generally just referred to as 'Hairy Guy' - shortly after the book opens. (Hairy Guy proves to be a big influence on Ben's musical taste). Paul, Ben's younger brother, generally tends to be a poisonous, spiteful brat. Among Ben's friends at school are Philip Chase, Duggie Anderton and Sean Harding. Like Ben's father, Duggie's father also works at British Leyland. However, where Ben's father is management, Duggie's father is a shop steward for the Union and a committed socialist. Ben, like every other boy at school, is hopelessly in love with Cicely Boyd. It's a pity, really, as he would have been much better off with the very likeable Claire Newman. (Meanwhile, Claire's sister - Miriam - is having an affair with Duggie's dad as the book opens).

The story is mostly told by Sophie - Ben's neice and Lois' daughter - looking back to the 1970s. Occasionally, some of the characters tell part of the story in their own words - a short story by Ben himself, a speech given by Duggie, sections of Lois' diary, the editorials of the school newspaper - even, at one point, a letter written to Ben by another character. On the whole it is a very readable, very enjoyable book - the only sections that disn't work for me were the introduction and the conclusion - featuring Sophie and Patrick. (In fact, the introduction was so bad I nearly didn't bother with the rest of the book). The book also, apparently holds the record for the longest sentence in English literature - Coe would've been better off just using punctuation, and forgetting about the record books, but it's not really that big a deal. Good enough for me to keep an eye out for its sequel - "The Closed Circle", which was released in 2004 and picks up the story in 1990s.

Funny and Charming
This was a good nostalgic read, with great characterisation. Funny, moving, very well written - Lois's story was particularly poignant. I would highly recommend this book. I also enjoyed the sequel, although Ben does become very odd!

The perfect holiday novel
The Rotters' Club is a charming and ambitious novel which chronicles four adolescent schoolboys growing up in 1970s Birmingham and trying to make sense of their lives.

It is a rewarding book and one that I would thoroughly recommend to my friends. Johnathan Coe is an imaginative writer who cleverly uses simple narrative to introduce many complex and emotive issues. In doing so, he is able to create a compelling story from the ordinary lives of people.

I am glad that I took a chance on this novel having initially been unsure as to whether I would be interested in a book about 1970s school children. I need not have worried. This is not a novel about 1970s life. It is about relationships and growing up.

For that reason, this book may disappoint people looking for amusing tales of Blue Nun. For those looking for an engaging novel that will make you feel different about how you view the world, this is a perfect fit.

So ignore the 1970s advertising and realise that Coe has used the backdrop of frustrating industrial stalemate so he can beautifully offset this with the youthful optimism that permeates this book.

This is one of those rare books that is thoroughly engaging as you read it and leaves you feeling great about the world. For that reason I cannot think of a better holiday book.

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