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The Rotters' Club Hardcover – February 19, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st American ed edition (February 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375413839
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375413834
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,734,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

At a time when people are looking back on the 1970s with nostalgia, Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club is a timely reminder of how ghastly that benighted decade was in Britain. Set in the "industrial" heartland of the West Midlands, it chronicles the growing pains of four Brummie schoolboys--Philip, Sean, Doug, and Benjamin--who must come to terms not only with the normal pangs of adolescence but with terrible knitwear, ludicrous pop music, nightmarish food, and insidious racism, all set against the awful, surreal, and tragicomic reality of a postimperial nation.

The book suffers in its programmatic attempts to make the four boys and their families symbolize, or represent, something important to do with British life. Doug, for instance, symbolizes Industrial Decline--his dad is a shop steward at the doomed British Leyland Longbridge plant. Sean symbolizes Sexual Liberation--at least he's the one who seems most likely to get his rocks off. And young Ben Trotter would appear to represent A Young Jonathan Coe. But if this aspect of the novel seems contrived, then the author's capricious, deft, wryly comedic, and touchingly empathetic style keeps things chugging along, as he knits together the troubles and tragedies of some fairly ordinary people living through fairly extraordinary years. --Sean Thomas,

From Publishers Weekly

This witty, sprawling and ambitious novel relates the coming-of-age stories of a group of adolescents in Birmingham, England, in the 1970s, with the era itself becoming a kind of character, encompassing trivialities like music as well as more serious issues: labor struggles, racism, terrorism. Of course, the teenagers Benjamin Trotter (a play on his name accounts for the novel's title) and three of his male classmates, along with two female peers, are struggling with their own timeless issues: Why are my parents so weird? Will I ever have sex? Is Eric Clapton God? Coe amusingly and sympathetically articulates the desperate nature of teenage life, demonstrating a sure command of his protagonists' vernacular. He juxtaposes "crises" of adolescence with much more compelling events: a pub bombing by Irish nationalists and drawn-out strikes, for example, and the very real toll they take on people, including some of his characters. But this interweaving also reveals the novel's biggest problem: the combination of these two narrative strands isn't as seamless as it ought to be, nor as illuminating as Coe intends. The book is Dickensian in scope, with multiple plot lines and perspectives as well as miniature portraits of virtually everyone connected with the teens. Unfortunately, the narrative is sometimes hard to follow, and individual characters often remain opaque. The difficulty is compounded by rapidly shifting perspectives and an awkward framing narrative set in the early 2000s. As he demonstrated in his well-received novel about the Thatcher years, The Winshaw Legacy, Coe is immensely clever, but that cleverness is almost misplaced here: universal as it may be, adolescent angst doesn't really compare to the problems of massive social change. (Feb. 26)the second of which will revisit the characters' lives in the 1990s.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Jonathan Coe is the author of The Winshaw Legacy and nine other novels. His many prizes include the Everyman Wodehouse Prize and the Samuel Johnson Prize.

Customer Reviews

Coe is a talented, very funny writer.
Elizabeth Hendry
"Rotters' Club" is hard to summarize, partly because of the wide cast of characters, the complex stories and the somewhat unfinished nature of it.
E. A Solinas
I was bummed out that this book was only 400 pages and as I got to the end I was sad.
Marcus Ronaldi

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Philip Nutman on March 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Englishman Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club is quite simply the most hilarious, laugh-out-loud novel I've read in years.
Not only is this politically-charged coming of age novel a gut-busting, funny-when-you-least-expect-it literary tour-de-force, it's an assured (although ultimately flawed) work displaying a rare élan and maturity seldom found in the works of young contemporary American writers.
Both an elegy to and an excoriation of the sordid "brown" Britain of the 1970s, which starts around the failure of the Edward Heath's Tory government and the attendant nationwide strikes, power blackouts, and general misery experienced by the population, the book moves through the resurgence of the Labour Party and the death of Socialism as marked by Margaret Thatcher's election victory in 1979.
Yes, this is a social history, and despite some critics who've said the book is too politically aware for its own good, it is first and foremost a tale of longing, be it the yearnings of a married, middle-aged man for his young lover, or protagonist Ben Trotter's (called Bent Rotter by his peers) unrequited desire for girlschool drama diva Cicely.
But the political cornerstone of the book definitely contributes to what many readers see as its major failing. Designed as the first volume of a dyad, this volume explores what Coe has called the last decade of real [British] politics, and a planned sequel will follow the principal characters as adults in the late 1990s through the current maze of Blairite socialism. As such, the novel's various threads don't all come together in a unified dénouement, and this open-ended, albeit life-like, conclusion will frustrate some readers.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Sollami on May 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've read two other works by Jonathan Coe, What a Carve Up and the House of Sleep, but this novel is the most entertaining and engaging of all. Coe has captured an era of development, not just culturally in the 1970s, but psychologically in his rich characters. There are teenagers painfully growing up, and there are their parents, painfully growing up as well. Invoking the explosive backdrop of seventies IRA violence, labor unrest, and right-wing political and racial nastiness, Coe fashions the lives of his complex characters as they navigate through a troubled timeframe in Birmingham, England. I cared about these people because they were real, they were funny, and they were invested with vulnerable, human, and universal emotions. I can't ask for much more from this author, who is, in my estimation, one of the most underrated and inventive out there. Congratulations! I very much look forward to the promised sequel.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Griffiths on April 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a comic but serious novel about the pain and joy of growing up and surviving school. Ben Trotter (aka Bent Rotter) negotiates his way through the minefield of adolescence, while trying to keep his oh so sensitive soul intact against all the odds.
I went to a school very much like the one Jonathan Coe describes, and reading the novel took me right back there - the angst, the cruelty, the stupid rules, the winter of discontent, the sudden death of prog rock, the friendships, the rainswept summer holidays, the girlfriends. The book is set in 1970s Birmingham, and Coe does a good job of evoking the sheer strangeness of the period. To be taken back there, pre-Thatcher,when unions had some power, and 'socialism' still meant something, is to realise just how much has changed, how British society is so shaped by the era but could never ever go back to it. Althought there is politics here, this is not primarily a political novel. Rather its great idea is the possibility that there are moments in time, instants in our lives, that 'are worth worlds' - moments that make life worthwhile, moments that we wish could go on forever. The characters' experiences of such moments are ultimately what drive the novel forward.
There were times when I laughed out loud, and many more times when I smiled in recognition. If I have one complaint it is that this is the first part of a two-novel sequence and I can't wait for the sequel.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on August 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club is a very amusing, engaging story of four teenage boys and their families and friends in Birmingham, England in the 1970s. Much went on in England, and Birmingham, at the time--strikes, pub bombings--and that affects the story in the novel. But equally important and disastrous are the goings on in the individual families--extramarital affairs, deaths, disappearances. These all happen, yet the boys in the novel manage to have an amusing trip into adulthood. They come of age, despite everything, and manage to do OK. The novel will make you laugh out loud and it will make you think about the sadnesses in life. I really enjoyed this one. Coe is a talented, very funny writer. Enjoy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Incredible but true. Jonathan Coe's "The Rotters' Club (RC)" was at the top of nearly every London book reviewer's year-end recommended reads list last year. I was curious but sceptical, expecting another lightweight Nick Hornby type novel to while away the weekend but, seriously folks, there's more depth to RC than meets the eye. Heartwarming, touching and poignant, it is also fun, friendly and easy to read but it isn't pulp fiction. It may even be literature.
RC captures perfectly the political climate of 70s UK before Thatcher squashed the trades unions and steered England back onto its capitalist path. There's no doubt we're in the midst of a class war and Coe deftly throws us a shocker a quarter of the way through to remind us of the horrors of war and conflict - but RC isn't all grim and horrible. Hardly. The fellas on the shopfloor may be fighting their bosses by day, but they don't forget to have their bit of fun by night. Meanwhile, their children - the gang of four, whose varied exploits this novel is occupied with - experience the pains and the usual ups and downs of adolescence. Though awkward, irritating, confused, self conscious and love lorn, these kids dare to dream and it is the honesty and spontaneity of their dreams that make them such an endearing bunch. Nobody is painted in black or white. Even Cicely Boyd, the golden girl of every boy's wet dream, isn't a caricature of the school flirt we might expect. Maybe it's too early to tell. Let's see how the story pans out in the sequel promised to us. And a sequel there must be, for the last chapter ("Green Coaster") is all build-up and no climax, a tease with the promise of a pay-off in the next instalment.
Coe is also a master of wit and comedy.
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