Book blog

1000 before 30 #48: The Rotters’ Club – Jonathan Coe

The coming-of-age story of a group of Adrian Mole-esque Birmingham boys.

rottersIt’s a time of strife, it’s a time of unions – it’s the 1970s. The (T)rotters live in a bustling, industrial city, and their three children Ben, Paul and Lois live a relatively sheltered life. But Ben’s crush on the prettiest girl in the school next door (Cicely), Lois’ dating antics in the personal sections of a rock mag and Paul’s tendency towards acting like a young psychopath are the least of their problems as the real world catches up with an entire community.

Doug Anderton, Paul’s friend and comrade in arms, also happens to be the son of a workers’ union boss, Bill Anderton, who is navigating choppy political waters while carrying on an affair with the factory secretary Miriam.

Miriam and Bill’s romance, which started off as a few gazes at meetings, had an unsavoury feel to it – there was no way it was going to end well, and Coe’s suggestion of an untimely demise didn’t come entirely as a surprise. Would Miriam have acted differently had her parents not been so strictly religious?

Doug’s foray into London’s music world, however, was nothing but refreshing. I couldn’t help but laugh when he seduced that posh woman at a gig or tried to get a job at NME by just showing up. It was ballsy, it was refreshing. I don’t doubt they would have given him a chance.

Honestly, I thought Paul was quite endearing – he was the least cool of all of the group – a bit awkward, a bit uncomfortable with himself, but altogether good hearted. He was a bit silly when it came to dealing with Cicely. The weird thing was, they sounded like teenagers that I had known. Melodrama? Check. Self-importance? Of course. There were genuinely dialogues that could have been direct entries of Adrian Mole’s diary.

The book also touches on deeply upsetting subjects. Lois and ‘Hairy Guy’ Malcolm’s love story is particularly tragic (no spoilers). It was one of the most shocking parts of the book – especially as Coe doesn’t make clear how much damage Lois had suffered because of it. In the chapters on the family holiday in the second half of the book, Coe doesn’t make clear that her wounds are psychological until well into the chapter – and aren’t they bad enough?

This was a very special book. It was sad and funny and brilliant at the same time. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Special thanks go to my boyfriend Tom, who suggested this book (and handed it to me) in the first place. Thank you.



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