Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Accidental Jonathan Coe

I started reading Jonathan Coe's The Accidental Woman over the weekend. From out of nowhere, he's become one of my favorite writers. For nine or ten years I avoided reading his first big book, The Winshaw Legacay (published in the UK as What a Carve Up?) because I didn't like the book's cover and because the book was sometimes described as zany or madcap. Those are two very ugly words and I want nothing to do with anything they describe. But I kept hearing and reading things about this Coe guy. About a year ago, I picked up a copy of The Rotter's Club and was swept away by it. I've told people it was kind of a cross between a Nick Hornby novel and a Robert Altman film, all set in 1970s Birmingham. It s a fantastic book. Funny, smart, moving, touching - a complete triumph in every way imaginable. Becuase I had this reaction, I had to get all of his other books and read them.

So I finally read The Winshaw Legacy - and it was fantastic. Its about a writer working on a family history of a nasty English family, and about how the book changes him and the family changes England. Stuffed full of suprises and coincedences, it may be the most enjoyable and fulfulling novel I've ever read. (No, I don't think I'm exaggerating.) Its also a very political book (Thatcherism and Britain in the 80s and all that) and I keep thinking about the book because of the many things in it that echo the Bush administration.

And then I read The House of Sleep - also very good. Sort of like an English Big Chill set in a sleep disorder clinic. Very, very good.

And since I read The Rotter's Club, I've been waiting for the follow up to it, The Closed Circle. Coe had also been working on a biography of some obscure English novelist called B.S. Johnson and it felt like it took him forever to finish The Closed Circle. In the interim, the Johnson bio was published to some of the best reviews I've ever seen for a biography. Of course, I have a copy. Which I've skimmed. And will read. And I've been hunting down copies of B.S. Johnson's books. Very hard to find. So far I have House Mother Normal and Christy Malry's Own Double Entry (which I sort of knew about because I saw a review of the film version of it in the English film magazine Sight and Sound - the star is one the guys from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrells - and I wanted to see it before I even knew it was based on a book, much less a book by the subject of a biography written by my new favorite writer - but unfortunately, it hasn't been properly released - some crap about 9/11 and bad timing - and my only way to see it might be on a German DVD - but enough of that for now).

With my Amazon.uk order of The Closed Circle, I got Coe's first three novels. Because I need to see how my favorite writer develops. And for some reason, instead of starting The Closed Circle this weekend, I picked up The Accidental Woman. And its not a bad book. Reading it is akin to watching Lance Armstrong learning to ride a tricycle. But disaster struck after page 42 when my copy of the book skips to page 95. I got a bad book. Amazon is sending me a replacement copy.

Meanwhile I am reading Justin Cartwright's new book, The Promise of Happiness. He's also one of my favorite writers and I also ignored one of his books for years beacuse of a bad dust jacket. But then a woman gave me a copy of one of his books (about a man with a scar on his neck - to me, a man with a scar on my neck) and I've been a big fan ever since.

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