Jonathan Coe & Mr Mitchell
This weekend I took down from yonder shelf Jonathan Coe's The Rotters' Club, and was powerless to do anything else but read it to the very end. His novel The Winshaw Legacy was one of those great bought-for-a-buck-at-the-library discoveries*, and I also enjoyed The House of Sleep . . . not to mention his recent B.S. Johnson bio, Like a Fiery Elephant.
There are traces of his LAFE/BSJ research in TRC — the 27-chapter format might be a nod to BSJ's 27-pamphlet novel, and a very minor character, a Pakistani worker named Zulfikar, must allude to BSJ's best friend, novelist Zulfikar Ghose. Synopsized, TRC seems a fairly straightforward book, a social novel focusing on several interlocking families in '70s Birmingham, with the tongue-tied high-schooler Benjamin Trotter as (seemingly) the organizing intelligence. But the structural tactics are varied and fascinating—articles from the school paper (including a brilliant/hilarious review of a Yes album), a vocabulary-deficient man attempting a crossword, a short story written by Benjamin, etc. (Coe's other books play with structure as well, so maybe this bit of BSJ influence should be seen as having always been present in Coe.)
A sequel emerged last year, The Closed Circle, which I hope to read soon. I like the idea of books beyond that, sort of a Dance to the Music of Time thing (perhaps with Benjamin's annoying brother Paul emerging as a sort of Widmerpoole character) — I don't know if that's in the cards...
My "new favorite book" was supposed to be David Mitchell's tremendous Cloud Atlas, which I finished recently, but it's getting some strong competition from TRC.
Which book do Dizzyheads prefer?
I should note that I began Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in January and it was rapidly becoming my new favorite book. But then I needed to read other stuff and JS&MN was so distracting I had to tie it up with string so that I wouldn't open it. I was just getting back into the Norrellian swing of things when TRC hit me. Yow!
That's all for now.
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*Further story about The Winshaw Legacy — my first copy was lent, then stolen (by a felonious, unknown third party); my second copy was lent, then lost on a trip to Europe; I gave up on owning a copy, then found the British paperback, entitled What a Carve Up!, at the old Bryn Mawr Bookstore on the Upper East Side. I am not lending it.