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The Closed Circle, by Jonathan Coe

May 26th, 2008 (01:27 pm)

Those who feared that Coe could not live up to the success of The Rotters' Club with The Closed Circle need not have worried. The transition of Coe's chosen scions of Birmingham's elite school from the 1970s to the dawn of middle age at the turn of the twenty-first century is surprisingly well-judged. There are one or two revelations along the way where I should have realised what was going on earlier, but one, perhaps the central one, was obvious immediately, just because of the language and because after The Rotters' Club the reader knows one particular character very well. There are so many signposts that this reader wanted to shout at the (not very) blissfully ignorant characters; but several of them express their frustration at being unable to see the patterns that govern their lives, so it's very appropriate. Coe expresses states of being and mind with painful clarity, and his observations on power and politics, though in a very few cases lapsing into cliché, articulate the horrified observations of what must be a large segment of the British public: there have been many versions of Michael Usborne, his business-destroying, severance payment-inflating chief executive, in British business over the last few years. He, like the rest of us, is a prisoner of his frailties, even in a historical moment which gives him material success. Ultimately, we are left warned that we should be careful what we wish for, and with an apprehension, if not a fear, of the all-too-knowable.