If the Rotters’ Club was made by its ever so mature and admirable public school boy and girl characters, its successor, the Closed Circle, disappoints because thirty years on the most important still haven’t grown up. Benjamin Trotter’s continued crush on his childhood sweetheart (unmet since) and general ineptitude, leaves him rather pathetic, rather than loveable. It would be nice to hear more from his sister Lois, the Birmingham pub bombing survivor who’s turned out surprisingly normal. Similarly, while the first volume captures the spirit of the ’70s, cleverly integrating key events, in the Closed Circle the politics of day seem distant, despite our finding Paul Trotter as a caricature of a New Labour MP (for the first three-quarters anyway).
For the Rotters’ Club British fascism meant the National Front, but rather than take the BNP as a theme for today, Coe focuses on far smaller and even less relevant groups. In doing so he misses the far right’s move away from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia – a major feature of today’s racial politics – and portrays British fascists as sympathetic to radical Islam (not the mainstream fascist view; it’s not unusual for them to support Israel, for example).
None of this is helped by a rather predictable penultimate chapter revelation that tries and fails to overcome a feeling that the novel is rather too dependent on coincidence.