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The Rotters Club by Jonathan Coe - Book Review


The Rotters' Club
Jonathan Coe

Fiction-Net Rating 5 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

Trotter, Harding, Anderton and Chase - sounds like a legal conglomerate, according to their wearily sarcastic English master but in fact, they are a quartet of young friends at a Birmingham school and the narrative of The Rotters' Club is about to take them on an unforgettable ride through the surreal landscape of the 1970's.

Sean Harding's anarchic humour makes him a mythical figure, both among his fellow pupils and at the girls' school next door. Doug Anderton begins to absorb the political lessons of his father, a leading shop steward at British Leyland's Longbridge plant. Philip Chase struggles to live with his parents' faltering marriage and the collapse of his progressive rock band, whose career is shorter than a Yes concept album. And for Benjamin Trotter, aspiring novelist, part-time composer and closet Christian, life will never have any meaning until he can find some way to make the beautiful Cicely sit up and take notice of him.

Together, these friends inherit the editorship of their school magazine and soon new arguments begin to rage - which is more worthy of the front page, the story of a bitter industrial dispute in far-off London or the equally bitter sporting rivalry between the loathsome Culpepper and Steve Richards, the only black pupil in the entire school.

We Say

On first inspection, The Rotters' Club would seem to be the kind of book that readers don't have the patience for anymore. Its subject matter is that of a family saga - political and social unrest intruding on the lives of the families in question and sending ripples of effect through the generations. In truth, this book does require a certain amount of patience. There are lots of characters with lots of different connections. Until you are able to grasp exactly who is who, it is a little difficult to follow. However, perseverance will pay off and The Rotters' Club is definitely worth the effort.

As a depiction of the seventies, The Rotters' Club is vivid and evocative. If you actually lived through these times, it serves as an important reminder. If you didn't, it provides a much-needed lesson in recent history. The broad scope of the novel is kept interesting by the varied styles of narrative deployed by Jonathan Coe - there are articles from the school newspaper, letters and shifts in location. And although the book obviously has some major political issues to address, the expression of the characters as realistic people is never sacrificed because of this. The style is neither heavy or monotone and it operates on an entirely human level.

The plot is not gripping or action packed but clearly, this is not the author's intention. There are some beautiful moments of yearning in this book as well as moments of terrible shock and despair. Overall, this leads to a tone of emotional intensity.

The Rotters' Club is an intelligent and moving book.

Review by: Rachel Taylor

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