VIKING £17.99 £16.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe

The dread hand of Thatcher over us all




In The Rotters' Club, Jonathan Coe's novel of adolescent angst, middle-aged infidelity, IRA terrorism and trade union activism in 1970s Birmingham ended with two predictions by the notoriously inaccurate soothsayer, Sam Chase. One was that Benjamin Trotter, the quiet one with artistic ambitions, would enjoy lifelong felicity with Cicely, his stunning (and unwitting) muse. The other was that Margaret Thatcher would never be Prime Minister.

When the characters are rediscovered in The Closed Circle, 25 years on, Thatcher's premiership has been and gone and Cicely, of course, has disappeared from Benjamin's life if not from his head. The editorial team of the King William's School magazine are now in their forties: Emily, the fervent Christian, is married to Benjamin; Claire is recovering from a traumatic relationship with a married Italian; Doug's youthful forays into journalism have landed him a top job on a major broadsheet; and the annoying youngest Trotter, Paul, is a New Labour MP.

Benjamin's youthful promise has yet to bear fruit. He's an accountant by profession; the book he has spent 20 years working on remains a tattered collection of type-written sheets. He worries that his "aura of failure, of disappointment" will scare off the lovely young woman who introduces herself to him in a Birmingham café one afternoon - with far-reaching consequences.

It was Coe's close attention to detail - the politics, the bands, the lashings of Blue Nun - that brought the 1970s so engagingly to life in The Rotters' Club, and he's no less alert in describing the dawn of the new millennium. Paul appears on a comedy news quiz opposite "the smart-arsed editor of a satirical magazine", and we know he's being ridiculed by Ian Hislop on Have I got News for You? The Millennium bug, middle lane motorway drivers and reality TV celebrities all make an appearance.

The book has an up-to-the-minute topicality that most writers shy away from, but it allows Coe to hone in savagely on his bêtes noires. The workers' struggles of The Rotters' Club are over, and a scarily Thatcherite Prime Minister in thrall to a neoconservative US President leads the country and the Labour Party. Coe's characters' grown-up selves inhabit a world of private finance initiatives that "would have been unthinkable ... under the Conservative government"; they have affairs with fat-cat executives who are lavishly rewarded for their business failures. The Iraq war is "ill-advised and dangerous", and although Paul Trotter knows this he still votes for it. It's his sister who seems to speak for the writer - and many of his readers - when she worries that: "It's only a matter of time before something worse happens. Something huge..."

In a novel this richly drawn, it's easy to forgive the odd instance of automatic phrasing (the inevitably "crepuscular gloom") and the occasional clunky piece of character development. (See if you're convinced that one character's ruthless lampooning of the Pusey-Hamiltons in The Rotters' Club was really a subtle panegyric.)

It's easy, because Coe has succeeded in accomplishing that rare feat: a pair of novels that combine the addictive quality of the best soap operas with a basic cultural integrity. The "closed circle" of the title is not only the name of a think-tank-within-a-think-tank, set up by Paul and named after an elite club at school. It's also a fitting description of a tangled narrative that begins and ends with a discussion between two adolescents in a revolving restaurant.

Don't read The Closed Circle until you've read The Rotters' Club, but make sure you have both by your bed the next time you take a sickie or a holiday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum