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Jonathan Coe writes:

The Rotters' Club was never intended to be a stand-alone novel. As I said, it began life as an idea I'd had when I was still a schoolboy, and the plan was always to make it the first volume of an enormous roman fleuve along the lines of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time. In fact, when I began to work seriously on this idea in 1997, my intention was to write six novels involving the same characters. The first one was provisionally entitled The Learning Curve, and the last one was always going to be called The Closed Circle. The idea was that the covers of each book should have an arc of a circle on them, and when you arranged the books into a rectangle, and put the covers together like the pieces of a jigsaw, a completed or ‘closed’ circle would be revealed.

Perhaps this plan was always too ambitious: in any case, I quickly decided that I would only write two of the projected sequence – volume one (now called The Rotters' Club) and volume six. I think that to curtail the project in this way was an ingenious idea, but I'm not sure, in retrospect, that it worked. Three years passed between the publication of the two books. I had originally wanted to flag up The Rotters' Club's incompleteness by describing it on the title page as a ‘half-novel’, but this suggestion was vetoed by every publisher I made it to. Meanwhile the novel had some success with the public and readers got used to thinking of it as a self-contained piece of work, a loving and nostalgic hymn to the 1970s. As a result The Closed Circle, when it finally appeared, was seen by many people as an irrelevance and an unwelcome complication of the first book.

I also suspect that my own description of The Closed Circle (on the last page of The Rotters' Club) as a ‘sequel’ was not very well judged. ‘Sequel’ implies that something is an afterthought and, as I've explained, the close relationship between the two novels was planned from the very beginning. A better phrase might have been ‘companion piece’; or better still, ‘mirror image’, which is how I've often described the relationship between the two books in interviews. I don't know, for instance, if many people noticed that the two novels have exactly the same number of chapters, but in The Closed Circle they are numbered in reverse order; or that the last words of each of the three sections of The Rotters' Club are also the titles of those sections, whereas in The Closed Circle, the same is true of the first words of each section. Perhaps people did notice these things, and didn't think them worth remarking on. But they were among a number of devices I used to ensure that the two novels ‘reflected’ each other as precisely as possible.

The Closed Circle originally ended with a chapter numbered ‘0’, which consisted solely of a cutting from a financial newspaper making clear that the quartet of businessmen known as the ‘Phoenix Four’, who seemed to have come to the rescue of the failing Longbridge factory, were in fact taking alarming sums of money out of it in the form of pensions and payments for themselves. (¬£42 million according to some reports.) This chapter was removed – slightly to my regret – because early readers of the novel found it too downbeat and pessimistic.

One of these days I plan to revise The Rotters' Club and The Closed Circle – perhaps restoring the deleted ‘Chapter 0’, or at least adding a postscript on the subsequent fate of the Longbridge factory. The two novels would then be published in one volume under a new, collective title. In the meantime, the format which best captures the spirit in which I conceived these books is Gallimard's ‘Coffret’ which puts both novels together in one box.”

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jonathan coe portrait imageJonathan Coe was born on 19 August 1961 in Lickey, a suburb of south-west Birmingham. His father worked in the motor industry as a research physicist; his mother was a music and PE teacher.
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