Saturday, September 15, 2007

The closed circle

On Monday I tackled the squalor of my office and after an hour's work had really done a tolerable though in many respects fairly superficial clean-up. (Motivated not so much by squalor-erasing fervor as by the fact that I really needed to find the original for a course packet already overdue at the copy shop...) Initial squalor dates back to the aftermath of the second major mold infestation--after the first one, the cleaners did indeed take every book off the shelf and attempt to eradicate the mold problem, and of course this is very good of them but the way the books went back on the shelf all higgledy-piggledy needed some major rearranging; and then, after the second one, though it really was the case that many of them hadn't even been put back with spines facing outward, I could not quite face restoring order to something that seemed so likely to undergo further disruption. But restore order I did, and in the process uncovered a rather delightful volume that had vanished under junk--I started reading it during a quiet moment in office hours on Thursday, and have just now polished it off: Jonathan Coe's The Closed Circle, and a very good novel it is too (though not perhaps with the deep pathos of The Rotters' Club).

Aside from everything else (many things to like here), Coe is extraordinarily adept with viewpoint--I am often irritable about novelists' handlings of the points of view of multiple characters, it seems to me often done with slight or sometimes considerable clumsiness, but this is an exceptionally graceful and tactfully handled instance of same, worth a look I think if you are trying to write such a thing yourself (which I will never do).

Hmmm--office much better now it's tidy, though air quality still poor--and just in case I did not already inadvertently cast aspersions on my place of employment, I think I am resolved to throw away the mousetrap on Monday, it creates such a bad impression in those who notice it! And it must be said that though I would prefer no mouse presence whatsoever, I would rather see a little mouse scuttling across the floor than a dead or half-dead one in a trap...


  1. I actually found The Closed Circle frustrating. I had been deeply impressed by The Rotters Club both for the command Coe demonstrated of a variety of voices and minds and, perhaps more important, for the fundamental ambiguity of much of the narrative. There was so much left unanswered at the end--and, though I suppose I should have known better, since a sequel was promised--I thought that uncertainty was by design. We don't get answers to all the questions we have about our friends' and relations' lives, after all, and I thought-and appreciated--that Coe was letting his narrative remain open-ended for that reason.

    Therefore, The Closed Circle, failed for me despite its many real pleasures. (Having lived in London for a very brief period in the late 90s, I thought he got its self-congratulatory (yet still appealing) cosmopolitanism spot on.) We got so many answers that what had in the first novel felt like an organic, jumbled portrayal of several very real lives began instead to seem too orchestrated, too organized. I started to have trouble even _believing_ Coe--especially when it came to the main love story, the resolution of which rang false.

    All of which sounds, I realize now, much worse than I mean for it to. Obviously, I wanted Coe to write a different story from what he was writing--and after the first novel, I mistakenly thought he had done so. But that's not really his job, is it? It's entirely possible that the pair of novels work perfectly well on their own terms, but my own expectations kept me from even understanding those terms until it was too late.