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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
If you take a nonlinear approach to the history of the 20th century, the 1970s can be seen as an era of confused adolescence. Self-conscious, hormonal, pimply faced, it was a decade as ill at ease with itself as a pubescent boy in a powder-blue suit at a school dance. Jonathan Coe, author of the sly, complex, and farcical The Winshaw Legacy, sets his witty and nostalgic The Rotters' Club during that graceless period in Great Britain's history -- a time beset by labor disputes, racism, terrorism, and some really lame Eric Clapton songs.
The first installment in a two-book narrative (the second of which, The Closed Circle, will follow the same characters into the 1990s), The Rotters' Club opens in 1973 and centers on three Birmingham school chums -- Benjamin Trotter, Doug Anderton, and Phillip Chase -- whose lives focus primarily on homework, music, and girls. But their innocence -- and that of their families -- is shattered when the boyfriend of Ben's older sister is decapitated in an IRA bombing at a local pub. In a matter of seconds, a family and a nation is shaken from complacent slumber by the realization that terrorism -- something that once seemed so distant and foreign -- has slithered its malefic body right onto their doorstep. However, like John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire, Coe's novel focuses on an act of terrorism but encompasses a great deal more. Though pivotal to the story, the bombing serves only as a catalyst for the characters' heightened awareness of how the political and social, and the racial and moral, mesh together in intricate patterns. In Coe's world there are no coincidences -- a passing glance will lead years later to a proposal of marriage, an answered personal add will result in death and insanity, a borrowed album will lead to a musical revolution. Every thing is connected.
Episodic, engaging, and very funny, The Rotters' Club is a sharp, postmodern epic -- a novel about friends and family, life and death, love and infidelity, symphonic rock and punk. In crafting both a satire and a love letter to a misunderstood era, Coe has created a sympathetic portrait of a group of young people who are coming of age along with their world. (Stephen Bloom)