Saturday, August 28, 2004

The good and bad of Jonathan Coe

I can give you it in one quote, a single sentence, from the section in The Rotters' Club dealing with the affair between Bill Anderton, a British Leyland shop steward, and Miriam Newman, a typist there: "They checked into The Talbot Hotel as Mr and Mrs Stokes (a little tribute Bill had decided to pay to the current chairman of British Leyland)."

The good: That detail fits Bill Anderton's character perfectly, adds to it, and helps make a militant union official conducting an affair with someone he has power over sympathetic.

The bad: Coe has to tell you the significance of the name, and throw in "current", which makes the tone suddenly journalistic. He does this kind of thing a lot.

[The Rotters' Club, by Jonathan Coe (Viking, 2001). Historical novel of the 1970s, looser structurally than his earlier work; this gives the characters more space but makes the occasional implausibilities harder to accept. Rereading, for obvious reasons. It stands up.]

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