Picks and Pans Review: The Closed Circle

UPDATED 07/11/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/11/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

By Jonathan Coe
NOVEL
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Jonathan Coe may be the most exciting novelist you've never heard of. The Closed Circle completes a two-novel tour de force that began with 2002's The Rotters' Club, now available in paperback. It's essential to read Rotters' first: Together the two novels follow a group of friends raised in the factory town of Birmingham, England, from school into middle age, from IRA attacks to Al Qaeda's, from first kisses to adultery and divorce, from childish hopes to fame for some but wasted potential for others.

Coe has every tool a writer can possess, as though he were a super-novelist assembled from the best parts of others. He's a very funny satirist and sometimes he's politically incendiary, but he's also an expert plotter who examines individual personalities in depth. As each carefully drawn circle closes in a series of climaxes, he reminds us that both in history and in the history of our private lives, the past has a way of playing pranks on us.

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