Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Rotter's Club by Jonathan Coe

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The Rotter’s Club by Jonathan Coe

1. Time

This novel tells the story of several persons from 17 until 17, and in particular the youth of Benjamin. The story covers a period of about six years, but it takes about 15 hours to read the Rotter’s Club.

One day in the year 00, Sophia tells the story of her uncle Benjamin to Patrick. She goes back to 15 November 17, when her uncle was still an adolescent and there were a lot of IRA-attacks. During this decade there was also growing racial tension and strikes were very common. The entire story is a flashback. In the story itself, they also go back in time.

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For instance at page 4 They first mention that on the morning after the parent-teachers meeting, Chase told Benjamin that his parents were going to dinner at his place. Afterwards they tell what exactly happened on this meeting.

At page 116 we can read the story of Inger, Jorgan’s and Stefan’s mother. She had committed suicide, so now the two boys are living with their grandparents. The grandparents tell Benjamin, Paul and Rolf what happened to their daughter, who was Jewish. They go back to the year 140, when the Germans persecuted these people.

The novel ends in the year 00. In this last part, we get to know Patrick is the son of Claire and Philip, and Sophia is the daughter of Lois and her new friend Christopher.

. Main character Benjamin Trotter

Benjamin Trotter is a well-behaved boy. He has never broken the school rules and he is a diligent student. The very first thing Sophia mentions about her uncle is the fact he is doing his homework. In his last year of secondary education, he achieved the highest possible grades in every subject.

Benjamin cannot exercise authority He has been appointed to be a perfect. This implies he has to maintain order in the school. One of his duties is to supervise the younger forms, while they do litter duty. But he does not succeed in this. One day Philip finds him doing litter duty himself, while all the others have already gone home. Another day Doug finds him with his bottom wedged into one of the litterbins.

As a child, Benjamin was not religious, but this changes after the incident with the swimming trunks. For the rest of his life God plays a quite important role. He believes you can count on him.

I would also describe Benjamin as a sensible boy, and maybe a bit naïf One night he gets drunk, and kisses a girl named Jennifer. Benjamin falls in love with her, and he thinks their love is mutual. He asks her out, but Jennifer’s first reaction is ”Do you think that’s a good idea? Look, all that happened last night is we both got blind drunk and had a bit of a grope.” But Benjamin is still convinced that there is more between them, and he can convince Jennifer to go out with him. They become a couple, but it is quite obvious Jennifer is not really in love with Benjamin and does not care about their relationship. Benjamin’s friends are telling him to break up with her, but he finds it really difficult to break off their relationship, because he is convinced Jennifer is madly in love with him. When he finally dares to say to her their relationship is over, she is not upset at all.

Benjamin is not a great talker, and he prefers to stay in the background. He is also quite introvert, and a little bit antisocial. For example when they are on holiday in Denmark, Paul and Rolf play football with two other boys. But Benjamin does not play along with them. He prefers to write poems, or read novels in preparation of his A-level classes.

Benjamin is, just like all his friends and his little brother, interested in girls. But unlike Paul, who is a real blabbermouth, he is a bit shy. He does not have much self-confidence, certainly not in the presence of women. He is madly in love with Cicely, but he does not dare to approach her. But as he gets older I have the impression he dares more. For instance, when he and his family go on holiday in Wales, Cicely is also staying somewhere in that region with her uncle. Benjamin lies to his parents and says he is going back to Birmingham, but in reality he is going to look for Cicely.

Benjamin is not only interested in girls, but also in everything that is linked with music; he plays the guitar, writes music, and he wants to become a composer or a writer. Benjamin likes music, because it always makes sense, which he could not say about the world. He has problems to understand everything what happens in life. When Benjamin was still thirteen years old, he was an optimistic, and he did not care about what happened in the world. He did not look at the future. I have the impression he changes after the bomb explosion in which his sister gets hurt, and Malcolm gets killed. He starts to think about life, about his own future, about happiness and sadness, and he really starts to treasure the happy moments in life, like the moments he spends together with Cicely.

. Language

-In the novel, plenty of funny situations are described. At page 54 for instance, where the narrator tells us about the ‘goldfish’ incident Lois is talking about a TV programme called ‘Colditz’, while Philip is staring and admiring her breasts. Suddenly he asks to Lois “What is the name of your goldfish?” Phillip was so overwhelmed by her breasts, that he had totally misunderstood the conversation. The narrator ends this incident with the following funny words In a few moments Lois had turned away, with a contemptuous toss of her head, and he was left to contemplate, once again the pallid gorgeousness of her breasts, in the now absolute certainty that this was as close as he would ever get to them.

-Mr Plumb, an art teacher, writes a letter to Philip’s mother, because he is in love with her. He always uses extremely difficult words and he manages to describe things very poetically. For instance I knew I was in the presence of greatness; not merely the presence of a perfect human being (perfect physically and, I venture to imagine, perfect in spirit, flawless in quintessence), but of what might also be described, without too much recourse to fancy, as a perfect work of art…(page 1) His letter was so difficult to understand, that Barbara needed a dictionary to read it.

-Sam is aware of the secret relationship between his wife and Mr Plumb. To impress his wife, he wants to imitate this man. This results in some funny situations, because he is not used to use such difficult words and expressions. For instance The clouds are parting and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the calm AFTER the storm. He makes himself ridiculous.

-At page 80, irony is used. The Chief Master says to Benjamin that he looks rather pale. Then he goes to Steve Richards, a black boy and says Ah Richards! No one could accuse you of looking pale, eh!

-Sometimes a contradiction also creates funny situations. For example at page 6 At a certain moment Doug says “I just know she’ll hate it.” The next sentence we read is ‘Mmm, lovely’

-Metaphors are used occasionally. For example at page Harding has made his entire face black, except for his nose It looked like a white punctuation mark. At page 171 Strikes are going to destroy this country like cancer destroys the body.

-Sometimes a desperate tone is created, like at page 65. Benjamin has forgotten his swimming trunks. If a boy forgot to bring his swimming trunks, he had to swim in the nude. You can really feel how desperate Benjamin is by the way the narrator describes it He could see it now, picture it, lying redundant against the upholstery in some distant car park, unnoticed by his father; unreachable. The towel, the freshly laundered Rugby shirt, the scuffed plimsolls, and the all-important swimming trunks those few square inches of Terylene which alone had the power to shield him from disaster. All gone. There was nothing that could save him now.

-At page 104 we can read the following fragment Then at 8.0 precisely, the timing device set off the trigger, the battery pack sent power running through the cables, and thirty pound of gelignite exploded on the far side of the pub. And that was how it all ended, for the chick and the hairy guy. Malcolm wanted to propose Lois, but he never got the chance, because there was a bomb explosion. I expected that this part would be full of emotions, but this was not the case; it ends very abruptly. The narrator only describes very short what happened, as if what happened is not important. He creates an impersonal tone. Maybe the narrator wants to show us that luck can turn very quickly in horror.

-At page 1, 5, 8 we find letters that are written by a so-called Athur Pusey�Hamilton, but in fact it is Harding who has written them. Arthur is a man of high standing. He uses difficult words, his writing style is very solemn, and he uses long and difficult sentences structures.

For example There was no time to be lost in extricating him from that sink of iniquity and sure enough, within thirty minutes he was safely at home, had been firmly tucked up in bed by Gladys, my good lady wife, and was enjoying the kind of sleep for which the only prerequisites are youthful innocence, an untroubled conscience and, of course, a powerful dose of barbiturates.

-At page 7 the narrator describes very accurately what is happening. This creates a lot of suspense. Benjamin is lost and he is searching the house were Cicely is staying. The narrator describes the wether there is a thunderstorm, and everything Benjamin sees and smells there is a gate, which shrieks when you open it, he can taste his own warm blood, the man that answers the door is one of the most frightening faces he has ever seen, …

-At page 6 we can read some fragments from Lois’ diary. As you read them, you notice, she really tries to think optimistically. She wants to control her emotions. For example Bad Lois, naughty Lois! No no no!; Come on Lois, you can do it! You’ve been through the worse!

-In the novel we can also read some articles that appear in the Bill Board. This school newspaper is written, among others, by Benjamin and Doug. The language they use in the article is totally different from the way they speak. In the articles they use very difficult words. For instance Richards missed none of the tonal ambiguity of this passage his delivery was courteous, but he caught the undertow of boastfulness, of thinly veiled scorn for the men of peace, which lies beneath the honeyed words. They try to make their articles exciting and pleasant to read, just like a real journalist. For example at page 10 When he begins to speak, the voice, initially, is a disappointment. He falters, stiffens, seems to mishear the rhythms. He is in fear of the verse, not in command of it. You notice Benjamin wants to built up the suspense.

-There is a sentence that begins at page 6 and only ends at page . In this part Benjamin tells about the morning he was alone with Cicely and they made love. He says there are moments in life, which are so full of emotion that they become somehow timeless. He will never forget this moment. I think this is the reason why they have not used a full stop.

-In this part the image of the yellow balloon comes back. In the beginning of the novel Benjamin mentions this balloon was his earliest memory. Accidentally, he had let go the balloon, and it flew away. Now he has the feeling he has found his yellow balloon back.

-At page 8 and we have a very accurate description of the environment. Benjamin wakes up and he has the feeling he is dead and has gone to heaven. In this part the narrator uses many words that refer to this place birdsongs, sun was streaming into the windows in shafts of white gold, in the background waves broke softly the distant shore, Cicely sat on his bed, and wore a white dress, and her hair was long and golden, …

-When the narrator uses foreign words (for instance persona non grata) he writes them in italics. He also does this when he wants to stress a word. (That’s not still going on, is it?) Fragments coming from a diary and also letters are sometimes written in italics.

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