THE CLOSED CIRCLE is the sequel to Jonathan Coe's comedy The Rotters' Club. We have left the 1970s behind and moved on twenty-five years from Heath's to Blair's Britain. You don't need to read the first book to enjoy the second; it stands alone as a richly comic, entertaining novel (and there is a helpful two-page synopsis of what has gone before). The original schoolboy cast - a quintet comprising Benjamin and Paul Trotter, Sean Hardy, Philip Chase, and Doug Anderton - are now twenty-five years older, greyer and more grizzled, and each of them finds his midriff is starting to expand 'according to some strange independent timetable of its own which bore no relation to the amount of food actually consumed'. The new century promises so much but has failed to deliver. It is sticking to a strange apocalyptic timetable of its own: the Paddington train crash, 11 September, and the looming war in Iraq.
The novel opens with Claire Newman, estranged wife of Philip Chase, returning to live in Britain after five years in Italy. People are angry and road rage is prevalent. Unlike Italy, 'here, they really seem to mean it' and there is a 'terrible, seething frustration'. The frustration is shared by