Thursday, 27 September 2007

The Rotters' Club

The Rotters' Club, Jonathan Coe, fiction

Not one for the charity shop this time. This one has been sitting on our "good book" shelf for quite some time, but I finally read it in response to a plug by MJF.

It's quite an overarching read, taking in teenage angst (primarily), industrial relations in the 1970s, IRA bombings and even a whiff of the Yorkshire Ripper (I presume). It uses multiple character perspectives, incorporates several very amusing articles from a school magazine, and (almost) ends on a 35 page stream-of-consciousness narrative with no punctuation save commas. It's also framed somewhat ambiguously with "present-day" bookends that hint at events that otherwise undescribed in the novel (my edition concludes with a reference to a sequel).

Overall, it's very enjoyable. There are many highly amusing schoolroom incidents, and the novel generally handles life at school very skillfully. Despite many differences with my own experiences at highschool, there are plenty of familiar situations and characters. The pranks of one particular character, Harding, reminded me at times of a not dissimilar joker in my school year (though his were considerably more tame). The obsessions of teenage life are also very familiar, although I certainly wasn't anywhere near as successful with girls as most of the characters in the novel are.

The other portions of the novel that deal with industrial unrest are somewhat less satisfying, not so much in their execution, more in how they communicate (or fail to) the bigger picture. However, that's possibly more to do with my reading of another novel, Tim Lott's Rumours of a Hurricane, which focuses much more closely on the political events of this time (well, more the 1980s). Here, I sort-of lost the thread of the author's story, spliced as it is into the rest of the novel. I suspect that the author originally wanted to write a novel about growing up in the 1970s, and only latterly decided to put some wider context into it. The novel might well have been more successful without the extra political baggage, as it could then have been more realistically myopic about the teenage lives of its main characters. For instance, although I was aware of politics while I was growing up, my own life and friends were far, far more important to me.

Still, an excellent read. Although, given my recent intake of pulp science fiction, I'm perhaps a little too grateful to get back to more wholesome reading.

Incidentally, for the historical record, I finally swallowed my pride and bought myself an iPod to replace my ailing XClef player. The latter served me well over five years, but finally seems to have given up the ghost. Anyway, I'm now the proud (ish) owner of an "iPod classic", 160 Gb of music-storing, photo-showing, video-playing techno-toy. I'm sure I'll witter on more about it some other time.

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