The Closed Circle by Jonathon Coe
Jonathon Coe’s The Rotter’s Club (published 2001) was always intended to be Book 1 of a larger story, and Book 2, The Closed Circle has only recently come out. It is a page-turner no doubt (I read it very quickly), but that only takes it within the provinces of an insubstantial beach read, and disappointingly it rarely strays outside, demonstrating but a shadow of the author’s proven ability. To be fair it does manage to show some virtuosity in the variety of views and immersive voices, and for a Coe obssesive that’s enough to make it a worth-while read. But it is an easy read – and whether you think that’s negative criticism or not will determine whether you like this book.

The book definitley does lack for Coe’s trademark “structured” gags though. Where the “missing footnote” in The House of Sleep recalled some of the wittier Ronnie Barker monologues (specifically the “Answering the Question Before last” Mastermind sketch), Closed Circle degenerates into the song medley where the Ronnies have to rhyme something with “flickers” and fail to say “knickers”. Oh my sides. In a great bit of shooting-in-foot, the best of the heavily telegraphed sitcom punchlines is actually designed to alienate possible newspaper reviewers. That made me laugh though. It is also unfortunate that for every sharp satirical point made about media/politics there’s often leaden social observation to wade through.

Amongst the many loose ends of the first book, there are two main mysteries – what happened to the missing sister, and who drugged someone as they took a crucial exam (Steve Richards). One of these is given an explanation that is to the satisfaction of the characters’, if not the reader’s. The “real” solutions are there for you to pick up in the text, and are reasonably obvious, but the details only come out in Circle. This, quite frankly, ruins the smug feeling that the reader gets (or at least this reader got) from the first book. So much so it’s tempting to suggest that if you did get it in Book 1 then don’t go out of your way to read Book 2.

There’s a maxim that good authors work out what the most important thing is in their story then leave it out. In this case Coe could have left out writing the entire book, which would have not satisfied his contract, or he could at least have left some mysteries explicitly hanging as an exercise for the reader.