When Jonathan Coe discussed with his novelist friend, Alice Adams, what should be the subject of his 13th novel he was encouraged to dig up The Trotter family that had appeared in his classic novel, The Rotters Club, and The Closed Circle and to set them against the context of Brexit.
And so Benjamin Trotter and co are once again with us, living their life from 2010 to September 2018.
Had Coe waited three years to put pen to paper he could probably not have conceived what would happen beyond his already agog writing.
This for example.
The most despicable symbolic pose by one of the most odious men to have ever stridden the corridors of Eton or Westminster.
Or one of these?
- The firing of the father of the House
- the firing of a very recent Chancellor of the Exchequer
- the firing of Churchill’s grandson
- a minority government
- the total reliance of the DUP to try to hold together a majority, and failing
- the most populist opposition parties in living memory – some would say fascists vs Trotskyites
- the complete collapse of the Labour party in Scotland
The list goes on and on and on.
Coe sets his story against the background of the unfolding of David (Dave) Cameron’s legacy – the unbelievable outcome that resulted in this mess.
It’s not Coe’s best novel, it starts and ends weakly, slowly. But in the central 3rd and 4th acts he creates a vivid satire on the outcomes of the political madness that has engulfed, and internationally embarrassed, this once-great nation.
The murder of Jo Cox, the rise of hate crime, the twitching of middle England’s middle class curtains as Tories tut and huff about the way middle England has ‘changed’. His main platform is one of increasing racial intolerance that may, or may not, be the foundations of this new populist politics and the central reason for the Brexit decision.
“They” are bad. Europe stinks. and yet his cast holiday “there”, hire “them” as their orderlies, maids, drivers.
When this book is good it’s page-turningly so. There are many laugh out loud moments. But when he goes off the boil, it quickly becomes tepid.
Saying that, Coe is one of our great writers and even a decent, rather than great, Coe is better than most writers’ career highlights.