"There were a couple of men dining by themselves. One was taking out his glasses to study the menu, the other was tipping brown sugar into his coffee cup from a paper sachet. Their actions seemed banal: but how was anyone to know what storms, what torrents of ideas and memories and dreams were raging through their minds at that instant?"
Anyone who can deliver that wonderful insight from such an everyday scene is worth reading further for the way in which he tries to get under the skin of how we all tick, and Jonathan Coe is such an author. I have discovered him only recently, thanks to a couple of former students, and have read only two of his books, but they are high on my list of recommendations. "What a Carve Up" was a great read, and an incisive dissection of Thatcherite Britain, but if anything "The Rotters' Club" is even better. Set in that weird decade of my own childhood, the 1970s, with its divisive politics, odd music, strange fashion sense and atmosphere of impending doom, it is a captivating coming of age tale of a group of grammar school friends. Coe deals with friendships and relationships admirably, painting them against the political and cultural background of the time with compulsive clarity. The book doesn't quite 'end', in that we are still left guessing about some of the outcomes of events recounted along the way, but it has its fair share of twists and surprises throughout.
The grammar school setting gives it a degree of familiarity with anyone at SGS, and a key focus is the school's student-produced newspaper, used in the novel as a fulcrum for much of the plot development. It may not be a sports paper, but the way its sixth form writers use their new-won positions of literary influence to settle a few scores is not unfamiliar to readers of SGS's own "What's the Story..."
Coe writes feelingly about human relationships, and revealingly about politics and produces, in sum, a readable novel that should engage anyone interested in the way we were just a few decades ago.