The Rotter’s Club by Jonathan Coe book review

By Emma Brooks

Having really enjoyed two of Jonathan Coe’s previous books, I decided to try another of his, and possibly the most well-known too. This is how I ended up owning and reading The Rotter’s Club. I will briefly repeat the part about the author here, considering as my last book review of What a Carve Up was quite a while ago.

About the author:

Jonathan Coe is an English author, originally from Worcestershire. He studied at Cambridge, and later taught at the University of Warwick. He has long been interested in literature, and his first novel was published in 1987. Since then, he has had nine novels published. He wroteWhat a Carve Up without having any advance from a publisher, and funded it by writing two short biographies of film stars. It was immediately an international success, and was later translated into 16 languages. It won the “Prix du meilleur livre étranger” in France in 1995.

About the book:

The Rotter’s Club is another classic by Coe, though this time the politics seem a little less present than in What a Carve Up, for example. The characters being mainly children, their stories becoming more engrossing even though there is an underlying political context. Also, this book is not quite as marked by the chapters alternating between characters and stories as some of Coe’s other books, however it still makes for a good read.

The Rotter’s Club is essentially a book about school, and how awful children can be to each other when growing up. The pranks they pull on each other, but also the friendships that are formed whilst going through thick and thin together. It touches upon adolescence, the discovery of fun, freedom and everything the world has on offer, and it also talks about love.

The Rotters are brother and sister Benjamin and Lois, and their story is somewhat told to us by Sophie and Patrick who happen to meet in Berlin and don’t even know each other until they realise their parents share a common past. The past they share is that of the school they went to and the friends they had at the time, of which Benjamin and Lois are a part.

Benjamin and Lois grow up as rivals as many brothers and sisters do, and Lois is obsessed with finding herself a boyfriend, reading through the personal ads in the newspaper. Once she finds one that suits her, Benjamin grows quite fond of him, and begins to discover lots of music and contemporary bands thanks to Malcom. But unfortunately, Malcom is the victim of an attack that will change both Lois and Benjamin’s lives.

Benjamin leads his own life with his friends at school, being part of a band and hoping for fame, being secretly in love with Cicely, the girl from the girls’ school next door. Cicely has no idea Benjamin exists, and yet he spends hours cooped up in his grandparent’s house composing music for her.

The story is also that of class and race differences. In the King William’s school, Benjamin and his friends come from a mixture of backgrounds: popular, rich, middle class, and there is only one black student in Benjamin’s class who is often made fun of and is envied by the other boys for being smart, good in school, and successful with the girls. Between the parents of these boys there is an odd rivalry, some of them working at the same place and yet believing that the other one’s child does not deserve to be there.

It is also a story of love and of betrayal, of disfunctional families, and of blind personal accomplishment. As one husband cheats on his wife, another wife cheats on her husband. Both of them know that they are doing the wrong thing, and yet they carry on without thinking of the possible implications for their partners, their families and everyone else surrounding them. And yet, the consequences will be dire for most of them, including their children.

Essentially, The Rotter’s Club puts us at the heart of young adolescents’ lives, the intense period of discovery they are going through, their feelings, their rivalry and the silly ideas they come up with. It is a touching tale of how at a young age friends and siblings can pull together for better or for worse, and provide support to each other. In the end, it’s all about growing up.

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