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The Boat Was My Friend

...The cliff edge of workaday morality

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Another brick in the wall

The Rotters' Club - Jonathan Coe

Great guy wishes groovy chick to write, into Tull, Pink Floyd, 17-28.’


‘Wanted girl friend, any age, but 4 ft. 10 in. or under, all letters answered.’


“Guy, 18, cat lover, seeks London chick, into Sabbath. Only Freaks please.”


“Freaky Guy (20) wants crazy chick (16+) for love. Into Quo and Zep”


Leeds boy with scooter, looks OK, seeks girlfriend 17-21 for discos, concerts. Photo appreciated


[Note: the above are quotations from genuine lonely hearts advertisements in Sounds (1973)]


Why the hell had I not read any of Jonathan Coe’s books earlier??


It’s totally my fault of course, because friends and people with similar interests in literature to mine had already told me, ages ago, that I’d love him, and I suppose I did believe them, but I couldn't imagine he would be of the mindblowing kind, which - it seems - he absolutely is. In this book Jonathan Coe writes as if he was always destined to become an author; he’s that talented!


The Rotters’ Club is a novel about England in the 70s; under the shadow of the IRA, the miners’ strike and power cuts, socialists and far right populists, youth school rivalries within an environment of a malign, inexorable divisiveness and teenage angst, blue and white collars and social class differences and music, music, MUSIC.. there’s A LOT of music in this book, which I can never resist anyway, but the really cool thing about Jonathan Coe – as if his being a fantastic author isn't enough already - is that he knows what he’s talking about.  That was the age of punk rock and prog rock gods wannabes, eager to push back the boundaries of the three-chord song and The Rotters’ Club nails it, like it nails any issue that it deals with really.


Because, mind you; this is a book with a lot of music; not about music. The Rotters’ Club works as a brilliant politically charged, opinionated and spot on (again; he knows his stuff) satirical commentary on the rebellious and existential 70s.


It’s also very moving, romantic, full of emotion.


‘my paragon, callipygic enchantress, apogee of all that is pulchritudinous in this misbegotten, maculate world, will the truculent forces of peripeteia ever vouchsafe us the sweet euphoria of sybaritic congress?’


Top this all up with a FANTASTIC sense of humour too. This is one entertaining book with numerous laugh out loud elegantly funny moments, that get stuck in your head.


I mean, I can't stop giggling: The boys attempted to form an art-rock band, which had to have a Tolkienesque name of course. Following some quite serious and heavy brainstorming, “Minas Tirith was ditched in favour of “Gandalf’s Pikestaff”, only to be ditched altogether as a project THE SAME DAY IT WAS FORMED, in favour of the punk oriented “The Maws of Doom” band. Obviously, that was all put down on paper, because the band would change music progression; isn't that what raw teenage angst is all about? I’m convinced. 



And come on. That chat on the Cold War..


‘Why is Berlin divided, anyway?’ Philip asked. ‘I've always wondered that.’

‘I don't know… I suppose there’s a river through the middle of it, isn't there? Like the Thames. I expect it’s the Danube or something.’

‘I thought it was something to do with the Cold War.’



‘What’s it all about, though, the Cold War? I mean, why’s it called the Cold War in the first place?’

‘Well,’ said Benjamin, struggling to raise some interest in this topic, ‘I expect it is very cold in Berlin, isn't it?’

‘But it’s all to do with America and Russia, I thought.’

Well it’s definitely cold in Russia. Everybody knows that.’

‘And why’s it called Watergate? What’s President Nixon supposed to have done?’

‘I don't know.’


To sum up, The Rotters’ Club is an extremely RICH reading experience. Jonathan Coe plays with words like it’s not even a big deal. Just when you think you finally get and enjoy the writing style and the narrative, BAM he throws at you a river of screaming poetry that is both delicate and intense and leaves you stunned basically. Ace.