Saturday, 26 February 2011

The Rotters' Club - Jonathan Coe

Synopsis - Four young friends at a Birmingham school in the 1970's.  Sean's anarchic humour makes him a mythical figure amongst his fellow pupils and the girls' school next door.  Doug begins to absorb the political lessons of his father, a leading shop steward at British Leyland's Longbridge plant.  Philip struggles to live with his parents' faltering marriage and the collapse of his progressive rock band.  Benjamin is an aspiring novelist, part-time composer and closet Christian whose life will never have any meaning, until he can find a way to make the beautiful Cicely take notice of him.  These friends inherit the editorship of the school magazine and soon arguments begin to rage.  Which is more worthy of the front page: the story of a bitter industrial dispute in London, or the sporting rivalry between the loathsome Culpepper and Richards, the only black pupil in the school?
Review - A very well written, witty novel.  Set in Birmingham in the 70's in the midst of industrial action, IRA bombings, a political time and later on the punk rock era.  The story is set in a boy's grammar school very much like the one my husband attended on the other side of Birmingham.  Viewed by labour voters, socialists and communists as elite, only attainable by an entrance exam.  You feel the competitiveness to achieve in academic studies and sports.  It is very easy to imagine school bullies looking for easy targets, soft touches and the only black pupil in the school (particularly if good at everything).  A look at both the shy and brazen interaction between these young boys and the girls from the school next door.  It takes you back to that time when there were black outs due to the strikes, the political unrest and the IRA pub bombings.  I liked the reference to famous journalist/authors at NME in London, namely Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill.  Prog rock was in, very much in the shape of Yes, Soft Machine et al and at the later end of the 70's we hear about punk bands like The Clash.  The book starts with the story being told by Sophie and Patrick who had never met before, their parents had known each other back at that time in the 70's and this setting in Berlin is picked up again at the end of the book.  A recommended read.  4*

Blog Archive