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The Closed Circle (2006)

The Closed Circle (2006)
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Rating
3.77 of 5 Votes: 2
ISBN
0375713956 (ISBN13: 9780375713958)
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English
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vintage
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The Closed Circle (2006)
The Closed Circle (2006)

About book: Middle age, disillusionment, decay, renewal, closure I had a strange experience when I initially started to read this book. I knew it was the sequel to The Rotters’ Club – especially after I had read the author’s note – and that it only made sense to read it if I had read that first book. The thing was, I was convinced that I had read The Rotters’ Club, and it was only after reading the first ten pages or so of The Closed Circle that I realised this was making no sense. Why was this woman writing to her sister and expecting no reply, and why is she referring to these people under the assumption that I already know them? So I put it down, picked up The Rotters’ Club, totally loved it (reviewed elswhere on this site), then returned to The Closed Circle straight afterwards. The second book is not a loose sequel of the first; they are essentially two parts of the same book; you cannot make sense of the second if you have not read the first. The title The Closed Circle also describes the process of the two books, and you do not know which circle Coe refers to if you haven't read the first one: the end of the second book essentially closes the circle that was started in the first and hands the baton on to the next generation.That by way of introduction. Like most fellow Goodreads reviewers, I preferred The Rotters’ Club to The Closed Circle. Though I think it’s a little unfair to compare them, they being really two parts of the same story. Like another reviewer here, I am the same age as the characters (and, indeed, the author) – a teenager in the 70s and a jaded forty something in the noughties. So The Rotters’ Club was pure nostalgia for me; with its attention to historical (yes, I am old enough to use the word historical!) detail, it brought back memories and shod bright light on them. Yes, I cringed – tastes and fashions change… but I was so moved and transported back to my past that I totally loved it. Whereas (for me, being that age) The Closed Circle is about how it all panned out, about how those budding lives developed, how politics in Britain developed from Thatcher to Thatcher’s greatest achievement – New Labour. And mainly it’s about the disillusionment caused by the fact that in this life the good suffer and the bad prosper over us all. As personified in the two brothers: on the one hand Benjamin, whose creativity ends up in a cul-de-sac, whose love is unrequited and faith lost, and on the other the odious, cowardly, damaged, manic New Labour politician, Paul Trotter.The moral decay of a nation as charted by Coe consists mainly of the cloying, clammy, cowardly, ego/angst-driven, mendaciousness of its leaders, who end up saying anything and doing anything in order to keep their grubby hands on power. Because of these... lies, words lose their meaning and citizens become less and less the agents of politics and more and more the passive, uncritical consumers of it. It is this consumerisation, this “corporatisation” of Britain that disheartens Coe’s characters - the ones of my generation. (And, yes, I do relate to that – though, as the father of two teenagers, I try to be careful not to just fall into the trap of the generation gap, of claiming to represent a higher and more noble morality, and ignoring the progress or positives that younger generations bring to the table, too. Part of aging can easily be (and often is) feeling resentful that you’re being superceded, and one emotional reaction against that (perceived) rejection is, of course, very negative bitterness. Coe isn’t bitter, but I think he does lay on the moral decay thing a bit thick at times. New Labour comes in for a deep, resounding, heavy slamming in this book.)In addition to the "state of the nation" politics, the other strong element to these books is (are?) the wonderfully vivid, rounded, real, fallible... characters (though politics and the characters definitely interlace: politics are made by people, and politics shape people's lives – two facts that we have forgotten, I think). It is rare that I read a book and feel genuine emotions for its characters. Generally, I can never forget that what I’m reading is a fiction, that these people do not exist and thus, although I can relate to their actions and feelings, I can’t usually actually feel anything for them. But in this book, perhaps because the characters are so obviously my age and class, and their adolescence and middle-age so obviously close and similar to my own, I found myself really feeling for these people, er, characters. Benjamin with his pathos, his depression, his thwarted creativity and vulnerability; Paul’s cowardice and sad, ultimately empty ambition; Claire’s sensitivity and her poignant search for her lost sister; all the characters had a life and realism that I found very rare.One change that Coe observes that I am in deep agreement with is the idea that the world, or perhaps the ideas within it, the idelogies, has, or have, become much less easy to define. Edges that used to be sharp have become blurred. In the 70s, class barriers were brutally defined (and defining – you were basically either a posh Tory or a staunch, working-class Labour supporter. The struggles (battles!) between white- and blue-collar sections of the working population were not only epic, they were also very easy to understand. Britain was a divided nation, but you knew where you stood in it, because you (socially, politically) virtually always stood in the same place that you and your parents were born in it. Thatcher and Blair and their political class and generation played their roles in changing that, but the blur, the social mobility (that is driven by greed for money) has also been caused by (or even made, or maybe both) people who have become more restless, more fluid, more bendable. For a multitude of reasons, mainly to do with the increased wealth and power of the ruling classes, the collapse of Communism and the resultant, virtually global belief that unrestrained "market forces" will solve every problem from industrial relations and social inequality (easy, if "there is no such thing as society" - Margaret Thatcher) to monetary and even foreign policy – there was tacit agreement by a very significant majority that Iraq was necessary in order to keep the oil flowing and our insatiably greedy lifestyle possible (in the short term); for these reasons and many more, we have become these passive consumers, these puppet, unthinking agents of the conglommerate corporations that we so revere, or have been duped into revering. But it’s also that whole concepts have become fuzzy. In the 70s, there was a war in Ireland. A war between colonialists and anti-colonialists. You either wanted a united, Catholic, Gaelic Ireland tied to Dublin, or a divided one that had a province that was ruled by the minority of Protestants whose allegiance was to Britain, and to London in particular. Simple matter of allegiance, which, incidentally, was chosen for you by birth. Now we have a “War on Terror”. I don’t even know if my country ("my country"?! I am British, but have lived half of my life in Germany; my children are a mixture of cultures, as - due to globalisation - indeed are very many of their peers); I don't even know whether this set-up that they call a nation is even officially "at war", and if it is, who with , exactly? And what for? I don’t personally believe that America’s fundamentalism is (with some exceptions, chiefly to do with the status of women) much fairer or more just than the Islamic variety. Certainly neither faction is striving for peace. More pertinently, as pointed out by Coe in the narrative, how can it be that the gap between British fascism and radical Islam is now, in some quarters at least, not very wide? Answer: certain factions of both groups see “eye-to-eye” in terms of laying down their differences and uniting in their toxic ideology of blatant anti-Semitism. So they join forces and argue for a state that smashes “Zionist-led”, “decadent”, “godless” capitalism and leads us all back to a "promised" land of their “(separate) cultural roots” in harmony with Nature and God (take your choice which one, I guess). I guess you could sell this to Communists, too... “sell” being the operative word, for that's what it's all about. Complex. Complex and convoluted. And dangerous. The Rotters’ Club is more fun than The Closed Circle, but then again, life as a teenager is, or was, more fun (especially in the 70s) than life as a restless, struggling forty-something. I was so involved with the politics and personal stories of the characters in the book that I didn’t actually notice some of the plot weaknesses that other reviewers have pointed out. But like I say, these two books are so close to my own personal development and life, that once they are keenly and intelligently observed and well written, which I think they are here, I cannot fail to be carried along with them and love them, can I? Though I do think that the next generation has much to offer, too.As does indeed Coe seem to, as I think the ending to The Closed Circle shows.

Now, first of all I think we should separate the first 3/4 of the story from the last quarter, because they were very different since it’s in the last quarter that the circle closes, and it makes you see everything that has happened before in a new light. There was this heavy, even kind of gloomy atmosphere all throughout the first 3/4 of the story, and actually the only ray of sunshine in the pale lives entwined in the plot was Sophie, who represented everything that Benjamin, Lois and the others once were. Young, curious, bright and with everything still ahead of them... but that was because the circle was still open, and I think that’s why from the beginning I kept thinking “there’s much more to this story than what I’m reading”. I found Paul and Sean Harding intriguing in The Rotters’ Club: I hated them in The Closed Circle. Or, more precisely, I hated Paul in the first 3/4 of the story, and there was a moment in the second half where I really despised him and I couldn’t believe he was the same boy described in The Rotter’s Club, even if to be honest there were hints that he would become a person of the sort, but I always found him interesting nonetheless, and let’s say he got better in the last quarter of the story, at least more decent in some ways, not so much in others. Benjamin made me smile in The Rotters’ Club: he completely broke my heart in The Closed Circle. Even if once again the last quarter was a different story. But the fact that at the end we only hear of how his story continues/ends from other sources kind of disappointed me, because I wanted to read more of him directly. For some reason I feel like the climax was in the few lines that showed Benjamin decorating the Christmas tree with Susan and the girls, I think this is the one scene that sums up all the intense, sometimes desperate feelings involved up to that point. The atmosphere of the story was very different from the one in “The Rotters’ club”, so I feel it’s not right to compare the two of them. The only thing I know is that I adored them both. The way the story was told was always perfect, and really captivating, and maybe it got even more refined in The Closed Circle.I think the bottom line of this story is “the past always repeat itself. The past never lets go of you, but at the same time you’ve got to move on”, and that’s why at times this book was heart-wrenching. Also, I know I probably said this before when talking about one of Coe’s books (or all of them actually) and it’s not very witty but.. wow.
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Reviews
Zorba
La banda dei brocchi di Jonathan Coe si legge tutto d'un fiato.Ci si appassiona alle vicende, si vuole sapere ad ogni costo come finiranno le storie di questi adolescenti che sono la scusa di un affresco preciso dell'Inghilterra degli anni Settanta.Grande è la gioia quando alla fine una nota dell'autore preannuncia che ci sarà un seguito intitolato "Circolo chiuso".Purtroppo devo dire che questo seguito non è all'altezza delle aspettative.Benjamin Trotter nonostante sia sposato non ha dimenticato la sua vecchia fiamma Cicely, fa il commercialista e il suo vecchio romanzo sembra chiuso a chiave per sempre in un cassetto, mentre il fratello Paul è sempre più egoista e sempre più assetato di potere.Su questo sfondo si muove l'Inghilterra degli anni Novanta, tra Londra e Birmingham, e nonostante le pennellate di Coe non perdano vigore, non riusciamo più ad affezionarci ai personaggi, che ci rimettono forza, sogni e compassione.Intendiamoci, il libro non è scritto male. Anzi, tutto il contrario. Ma i colpi di scena ci fanno precipitare in un baratro di tristezza e di delusione, dopo averli seguiti, incoraggiati ed ammirati nel libro precente.Come se quegli adolescenti, una volta cresciuti, fossero diventati degli odiosi burattini del sistema, privi di speranze; come se si fossero accontentati delle vite che gli sono crollate addosso invece di cercarsi la grande vita, il grande amore, la realizzazione dei loro desideri. Come se si fossero accontentati.Ma forse è proprio questa la forza di questo romanzo: spesso le premesse di grandi esistenze che vediamo in molti adolescenti, magari anche in noi stessi alla magnifica età di 18-19 anni, crollano con il tempo... Si scende a patti con la vita, e la vita vuole sempre un prezzo, più o meno salato a seconda di quello che si chiede.Non so se consigliarvi di leggerlo, o lasciarvi nell'ignoranza di sapere cosa diventano da grandi i protagonisti della Banda dei Brocchi. Forse ne rimarrete delusi. Spesso è la vita stessa a farlo. A deludere, intendo.
Tiziana
Aw, Paul Trotter, what have you turned into...In this follow up to The Rotters' Club Paul's character is the only one that I really struggled to reconcile with his younger version in the former book. The 'creepy little thing' turned MP for New Labour has lost a lot of his scariness and become a laughable figure. A bit of disappointment there is inevitable, for a lover of black humour like me.In fact, a lot of the characters haven't (yet) fulfilled the promises they had as teenagers, and we find them twenty-five years or so down the line struggling to scrape even for a little bit of contentment. Disillusioned, bitter, somewhat tired, it is indeed somewhat saddening to read about the many ways in which life has made all of them somewhat unhappy.It is, however, a hugely entertaining, funny, well crafted book, In fact, a lot of the characters haven't (yet) fulfilled the promises they had as teenagers, and we find them twenty-five years or so down the line struggling to scrape even for a little bit of contentment. Disillusioned, bitter, somewhat tired, it is indeed somewhat saddening to read about the many ways in which life has made all of them somewhat unhappy.It is, however, a hugely entertaining, funny, well crafted book, in which Jonathan Coe's skills as a narrator, as a master of plots, conjure up a novel of many impossible coincidences and surprises, spiced with warming humour and humanity. And a novel that, despite its lighter tone at times, has indeed a lot to say about today's Britain, about politics and people, and about life, in general.I have read this book at a moment when I needed something to distract my mind from things that were not going so well in my own life - and Heaven knows how many times I have thanked God that Jonathan Coe exists whilst I was reading it! His books might not save your life, but they will certainly help you recover some of that faith in it that we all need to get by.
Colleen
I'm so glad I read this right after the first book, The Rotter's Club. Just as the title suggests, the circle is closed and everything is tied up, or just about. There might be an opening for a third book, though! The Closed Circle picks up 20-30 years later when the characters from The Rotter's Club are middle-aged. It's interesting to see where they've ended up--not at all where I thought they'd be. Benjamin turns out to be the biggest disappointment. He, of course, did not end up with Cicely-
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