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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time To Join The Club
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...
Published on March 9, 2002 by Philip Nutman

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not A Carve Up!
The Rotter's Club, in which author Coe attempts to do for the seventies which What a Carve Up! did for the eighties, unfortunately suffers by comparison. The intricate and satisfying plotting of that earlier novel (arguably Coe's best to date) is replaced by a much more diffuse structure, which at times strains to cohere satisfactorily. Coe's narrative centres around a...
Published on August 31, 2003 by twinpickles


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Time To Join The Club, March 9, 2002
By 
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (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.
And yes, the rumors are true: Coe, who's not afraid of experimentation, has indeed written a 15,000 word *sentence* which runs an exhausting 37 pages, and was inspired by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, who once wrote a novel which barely contained a full stop.
This is an uneven novel which, due to the specificity of its locale, time period, and cultural references, may confound many American readers (I am an expatriate Englishman of Coe's generation, but being a Londoner, his depiction of 1973 Brum is as familiar yet as foreign as Tony Soprano's New Jersey). But what a novel it is! And what a terrific read (I devoured it in two mammoth sittings in a day).
One way or another, discerning readers will discover a trip to The Rotters' Club rewarding.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich, Engaging, and Hilarious, May 22, 2005
By 
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Back to school, April 2, 2002
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hilarious and Heartbreaking Novel, August 11, 2002
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A book reviewer's favourite, RC is a delightful read, November 21, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (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. Benjamin's encounter with God viz the just-in-time appearance of a mysterious pair of swimming trunks is just one unforgettable and funny episode RC offers. There're loads more to delight you. Instantly accessible and great fun, I know why the reviewers loved it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply splendid, June 26, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
Sorry that all the others feared manipulation by this wonderful book. I was, quite simply, entranced. In part, no doubt, as an ex-pat contemporary of the novel's protagonists. Even as a Londoner, I remember strikes, dreary three day weeks, coming home from school in the dark fog during powercuts, and the terrifying rise of Maggie. 70's Birmingham, with all its class struggles and grimy angst, looked quite familiar to me (I don't know what part of London Philip from Atlanta must have grown up in). But anyone, especially the 40-somethings, should be touched by this book and its flawed heroes. I can't wait for the next.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars slightly rotten at the core, March 21, 2003
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
All in all, a skillfully drawn narrative with appealing and interesting characters. Beware, though: this novel ends with a sentence lasting 32 pages. A 32-page breathless, gushing interior monologue punctuated only by commas and unmeasured sentiment. It nearly spoiled the experience of the novel for me, but forewarned is forearmed. Incidentally, if you can get your hands on a copy of Coe's "House of Sleep," it's an astonishingly inventive and rewarding novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great British Novel, October 26, 2006
By 
Edward Aycock (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
The funny thing is that I almost didn't get past the fourth page of "The Rotter's Club." I felt the the prologue was a little clumsy and I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue, afraid the rest of the book would be written that way; I kept the book in my bag anyhow. Fate intervened in the form of jury duty. For two days, I did nothing but read this novel while I waited to see if my number would be called (reader, it was) and found myself falling deeper and deeper in love with this novel. I forgave the prologue as well, it was just a case of a bad first impression. Had I not continued with this book, I would have denied myself one of the best reads of the year. So, despite jury duty being a pain, I'll always remember the shabby downtown municipal buildings fondly because it was the means of uniting me and this novel.

One thing I loved about the book is that it's absolutely, undeniably British. This isn't a book that will explain things to you (and there's a lot in here from 70s politics to labour unions to the punk movement), you either roll with it or you don't. I found myself going to Wikipedia many times for further information on many of the events that form Coe's tapestry. Much like Rohinton Mistry's India-set "A Fine Balance", these characters exist in a specific historic period in history (more specifically Birmingham, England) and play active roles.

One true-life situation that made my heart stop came at the end of the first section. Throughout the first part of the novel, Coe carefully gives us dates and situations that anticipate a late 1974 event at a pub in Birmingham. For those well attuned to contemporary (post-WW2) English history, (and those who are Brits themselves), they'll see exactly where Coe is going. As a North American whose grasp of English history grows fuzzy after the Blitz, I was taken aback by what happens and kept rereading that section to make sure I really did read that correctly; I felt sick for the next few minutes. (The only Birmingham event many Americans know of is Alabama in 1963.)

And if that stunning moment is Coe's best trick, it's a good one, but he doesn't stop there. Through multiple narratives, points of view, school newspaper articles, etc., Coe creates a complex and heartbreaking world in an uncertain era. And sheesh, Coe can write some of the funniest scenes possible; part of the glory is how he doesn't set you up for anything, you'll be reading along and then come upon unexpected hilarity. It's been a while since a book really made me laugh out loud and this was welcome, especially in a dreary, overheated jury room.

I'm looking forward to reading more of Coe's work and am surprised that it's taken me this long to discover him. "The Rotter's Club" is my recommendation for the Fall. Winter's coming, buy your copy now and save it for when you're snowbound or experiencing ennui- once you start this novel, you won't be bored much longer. Just a word to the wise: you may find it helpful to write down the names and relationships of the characters as you meet them as they variously go by both their first and last names. Happy reading.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You won't fool the children of the Revolution -- oh, no, November 27, 2005
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
Nearly the end of Jonathan Coe's extremely funny masterpiece "The Rotters' Club", one of T. S. Eliot's poem is quoted. "Time present and time past / are both perhaps time future", and it is interesting that throughout the whole novel this is exactly what the writer is trying to state -- and he does so admirably.

Past and present walks hand in hand in "The Rotters' Club" -- such as in life. Our present is the result of the mistakes we made in the past. And the novels' characters -- as anyone -- have committed a lot of mistakes -- even though most of them are in their teens. As soon as we are born we start to make wrong choices.

Placed in the `70s, Coe uses Britain politics are the background for the story of Ben Trotter (a.k.a. Bent Rotter) and his friends. This is the period when the kids discover love, sex and above all that life is hard. In this fashion, the writer paints a paint a multicultural and multilayered portray of living in England in a troubled time, when IRA was bombing places and strikes were taking place all over the country.

Coe also exploits the kids' parents' lives exposing that not only youngsters are liable to commit idiotic mistakes. As a result he writes some of the funniest and saddest moments in the novel. Betrayal, failure and frustration seem to be the main cause of domestic problems.

Avoiding the common narrative, Coe brings to his text pages of characters' diaries, letters, school newspaper and even short stories written by them. In this sense the novel never falls the boredom because there always is something new and exciting in those pages.

The characters are amazingly real. And in the end one has the feeling that has met them in flesh and blood -- which is almost true since we have learned so much about them, that it is like we are all friends and part of the Rotter's club. And the fact that Coe wrote a sequel to the novel, called "The Full Circle", is even reason of joy, since we'll be able to meet our friends again and see what have happen to them in time present, time past and time future.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not A Carve Up!, August 31, 2003
This review is from: The Rotters' Club (Paperback)
The Rotter's Club, in which author Coe attempts to do for the seventies which What a Carve Up! did for the eighties, unfortunately suffers by comparison. The intricate and satisfying plotting of that earlier novel (arguably Coe's best to date) is replaced by a much more diffuse structure, which at times strains to cohere satisfactorily. Coe's narrative centres around a quartet of young friends at a Birmingham school and their social, sexual, political and artistic rites of passage. Trotter, Harding, Anderton and Chase are a carefully selected group each of whom allows Coe to make some characteristically gentle insights into the society and mores of the time. These are the dying years of the Labour government, of wildcat strikes; of Enoch Powell and the immigration controversy; of the advent of punk rock; of when NME was a force abroad in the land (at least to some members of the younger generation) and the IRA was bombing pubs in Birmingham. Against this background, Coe focuses on his four central characters. Sean Harding's anarchic figure makes him a legend of lunacy at the school (while concealing a broken family life and a degree of artistic sensibility). Doug Anderton begins to absorb the political lessons of his father a leading shop steward at British Leyland's troubled Longbridge plant, a worker-comrade with `Red' Robbo. (Anderton senior also has an affair with a young girl who abruptly vanishes). Philip Chase struggles to live with his parent's faltering marriage and his faltering career as a progressive rocker. (His mother meanwhile has an affair with Mr Plumb, one of his teachers). And Benjamin trotter, the nominal hero and at the centre of the book is an aspiring composer, novelist, Christian madly in love with the distant Cicely. All four edit the school magazine `The Bill Board', the editorial content of which gives the book some some of its best moments.
There are some very pleasing things here, such as Harding's antics (his inking-up to stage a part in `To Kill a Mockingbird' in class is particularly cherishable), Benjamin's misfortunes as Prefect, or the delicious depiction of the Chase dinner party. The gentle mockery of the pretensions of the lower bourgeoise, the little ironies of everyday life in and out of school, always seem to bring the best of Coe, and are the main reasons to read this book. He is less steady when it comes to big issues of the day. Industrial strife, mainland terrorism and racism are threaded through the narrative proficiently enough, but without making much impact. One feels they are painted in, but without any shade or shadow. It is as if he feels he has to `cover' them, rather than offer any fresh insights as a writer. Significantly, some of the most unconvincing elements in the book surround these larger issues, such as the ghastly tale of Lois' tragedy (which treads dangerously close to bathos), or the industrial strife at Longbridge. Most revealing, while the somewhat prissy Ben is given extensive page coverage, one character which perpetually contains the greatest dramatic potential - that of the solitary, harrassed, black student Steve Richards - hardly utters a word thoughout. His feud with the racist Culpepper, if anything, is underwritten. Perhaps realising, and wishing to balance this, Coe seeks to pump up Ben's presence as a character with a long penultimate section, 36 pages of internal dialogue, written with a full stop. While an interesting formal experiment, this is part of the book that this reader at least found wearisome verging on self-indulgent. Together with some other sections which can be detatched from the plot as separate episodes (the holiday in Denmark and the grandmother's story, for instance) show a distracting lack of focus.
Coe's natural skills as storyteller paper over many of the cracks however, although some loose ends remains unresolved (what did happen to Miriam?). He obviously cares about his characters, and performs the difficult task of providing gentle social satire without the outright mockery which would make the story cruel. I'd recommend this to those who have enjoyed Coes's other books. To one who has not, and wants a representative title to try, I'd suggest the aforementioned What a Carve Up!
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The Rotters' Club
The Rotters' Club by Jonathan Coe (Paperback - February 4, 2003)
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