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A reader's guide to The Rotters' Club

Updated Tuesday, 1st February 2005

Jonathan Coe's 2001 novel The Rotters' Club follows three teenage friends growing up in Birmingham in the 1970s.

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Our book of the month for February is The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe. It is an ideal choice because there is currently an adaptation of the novel on BBC TWO on Wednesday evenings, and a funny book is just the tonic we need on these cold winter days!

The story concerns Benjamin Trotter and his circle of friends, as they grow up in Birmingham during the 1970s. Coe has said that the background details of The Rotters’ Club are autobiographical. He was born in 1961, and those who are of the same age group will find themselves wallowing in nostalgia, as he conjures up the period engagingly and convincingly.

For those who actually live in the Midlands, the locations will be familiar anyway. Coe attended the prestigious King Edward’s School in Edgbaston, Birmingham, which is renamed King William’s in his book. He wanted to use a school setting, because a school is ‘a microcosm for society as a whole’, with ‘power struggles, cliques and rivalries.'

The Rotters' Club Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC

The style is satirical. Even as we laugh, we are aware of the deeper themes and issues underlying the text. The Birmingham pub bombings and the industrial disputes at British Leyland feature, for example, and Coe manages to combine the humorous and the poignant.

If you find yourself hooked, there is a sequel - The Closed Circle...

 

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