JUNE BOOK OF THE MONTH DISCUSSION - come here on Tuesday 1st July for our June bookclub chat

(153 Posts)

this is the thread to come to for June's Bookclub chat on Tues 1st July - I'll keep you posted about the author chat..

Fantastic news - Jonathan Coe will be joining us on Tuesday 1st for a live author chat. He'll log on at 9, after we've had an hour of discussing amongst ourselves. So get your questions ready (and if possible, put a few up here in advance so he can get started...)

Marina Mon 16-Jun-08 12:59:14

Jonathan on Mumsnet? Fantastic! He has some very hardcore fans here. I guess this will be The Rain Before It Falls?

Yes, this is The Rain BEfore It Falls, although I'm sure he'd be happy to answer questions on previous books. Hope you can join us...

Marina Tue 17-Jun-08 09:26:09

<starts making a list>

Pruners Tue 17-Jun-08 20:53:44

Message withdrawn

Bibbling is good, we like bibbling. Come along between 8 and 10pm and bibble away.

I'm trying to reach all the Mumsnetters who posted on the Coe fan club thread, if either of you are in touch with any of those fans would you tell them that he's coming along?
Hoping to get everyone there for a massive love-in...

EachPeachPearMum Thu 19-Jun-08 20:11:37

Wow- I just read this! I'm v excited, because I really like his stuff!

CocodeBear Fri 20-Jun-08 13:23:47

I thought this month's book was drivel. I don't understand what the fuss is about, if this is representative.

Cliche-ridden, paper-thin tosh.

cadelaide Tue 24-Jun-08 22:41:03

Jonathan Coe?

Pruners, I shall bibble along with you.

Coe fan club thread? How did I miss all these fellow Coe-fans?

Jenbot Tue 24-Jun-08 22:49:45

I was just in the baby names bit, and it reminded me to tell Jonathan Coe off for stealing the name we'd decided on for our future daughter (Coriander).

Jenbot Tue 24-Jun-08 22:50:57

Sorry, I don't think that's what his daughter is called, it was the child of a character!

here's the fan club thread, cadelaide.

If you can, please pop a question or two up here in advance so I can send on to him before the chat - always nice to start the ball rolling with those. Doesn't have to be about this book necessarily, can be about anything.

Looking forward to seeing everyone there on Tuesday night.

Just a reminder to put any advance questions here, if you can.

see you tomorrow at 8 and Jonathan will be here live from 9 onwards.

lalaa Mon 30-Jun-08 16:32:32

I'm not sure whether I'm going to be able to make it, but I have the read the book (I always take part even if I can't make it to the chat!).

Here's a question for Jonathan Coe:

I found I liked Rosamund less and less as the book progressed. I found her to be very self-orientated and I began to feel quite angry with her. There were points in the narrative after Thea's return to her mother where I was thinking why would Rosamund want to tell Imogen this apart from to make herself feel better? My question to Jonathan is, did you intend to make the reader feel this way? (Or was it just me?!)

lalaa Mon 30-Jun-08 16:35:21

Also, here's another one: what led you to choose the device of using photographs to map out the narrative?

beforesunrise Mon 30-Jun-08 19:48:24

i have read the book!! normally it wouldn't be enough reason to boast, but i have a toddler and a 6 weeks old, both a bit sleep challenged, so am feeling very proud and smug :-)

however not sure i will be able to log on tomorrow much as i would LOVE to... my question would be as follows:

the theme of mothers/daughters recurs through the book and it is notable that in Gill and her daughters you seem to offer a positive contrast to the dysfunctional Ivy/Beatrix/Thea/Imogen lineage. why did you decide to leave those characters only marginally sketched and not make more of the contrast?

also i second pp on how uneasy i grew around Rosamond as the book progressed- in particular i really didnt get the "inevitability" point, that really made me dislike her!

have fun!

TheChicken Mon 30-Jun-08 19:59:39

Johnathan as an ex bHAM UNIV GRADUATE I loved your books, but wot no mention of adam's plaice the chip shop or the OVT? grin

Marina Mon 30-Jun-08 20:37:48

Now I liked Rosamond beforesunrise
I found her much more intriguing than Gill, despite the latter character being much easier to relate to in terms of where my own life has taken me wink

I'd like to ask Jonathan what he feels about his popularity in France. I found it curiously funny and touching to see a copy of Les Nains de la Mort in a bookshop in Lille, alongside his more recent and extensively promoted novels.

Do you get involved with the translation of your novels into French? Why do you think it is that the French "get" you and appreciate your writing? Could it be that they savoured the bleak picture of modern Britain painted in What a Carve-Up? Interesting choice of title too, Testament a l'Anglaise...

wheelybug Mon 30-Jun-08 22:52:45

Or The Selly Sausage ..... (was it really called that ??)

wheelybug Mon 30-Jun-08 22:54:10

BTW I loved the book - will be back tomorrow with something more intellectual to say (apologies !).

Thanks to everyone for the advance questions - have sent them to Jonathan and looking forward to seeing you all at 8pm. Mr Coe will be logging on an hour later at 9pm, hope you can all make it...

(Have had sudden flashbacks of the OVT when my sister was there in the 80s - huge bags of porky scratchings come to mind for some reason)

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 13:16:13

I'd dearly love to know if I ever served him during my time as barmaid at the Bournbrook Tavern...
Am now having a Dilshad flashback myself...

TheChicken Tue 01-Jul-08 14:02:20

ah the selly sausage was a parevnu imo
the oddest places were the ggreasy psoon under the railway arches and the tiny sweet shop on alton road

TheOldestCat Tue 01-Jul-08 19:22:04

Horrifically, the OVT is now called The Goose or something and the Brook has burned down.

*fondly remembers the selly sausage and OMCO back in the day*

But back to business. I'd like to ask Jonathan Coe 'what did you think of The Rotters' Club telly adaptation'? oh and say ' I LOVE all your books, but particularly adore 'what a carve up' - tis tremendously funny'.

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 19:38:43

<<<squonk wanders into thread nice and early to get the best seat>>>

<<<squonk looks pointedly at TOC and takes the second best seat>>>


beforesunrise Tue 01-Jul-08 19:40:42

not a question really, but something to discuss... this book left me quite cold, i thought the plot a tad contrived but i guess my main problem was that i could not "hear" rosamond's voice. the text reads like something written, not spoken and yet it's meant to be tapes... anyone else found this?

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 19:41:47

i can make it after all - hoorah

Evening everyone

Shall we kick off with the point that lalaa raised: do we like Rosamund? And what did everyone think were her motives for telling Imogen all this?

I felt she was doing it more for herself - to understand the pain of her life - than to give Imogen any help. Do you think it would have helped Imogen if she were alive and had listened to the tapes instead of Gill?

The word that sums up the book for me is poignant. Everything about the story, characters and description has a gentle sadness - its not violent or shocking (despite the violent, shocking behaviour of Beatrix and Thea), it just left me with a calm thoughtfulness. Very different to the other Coe novels I've read, all of which made me laugh hard and/or think hard.

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 19:54:42

<< drums fingers impatiently>>

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 19:55:12


TheChicken Tue 01-Jul-08 19:55:16

so no talking about the pubs of selly oak or the Gunbarrels( in the rotters club afaicr )

and I WORKED THERE! twas a shit hole

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 20:01:00

"I felt she was doing it more for herself - to understand the pain of her life - than to give Imogen any help". Yes - agree. I think that's why I got more and more cross with Rosamund. And I felt glad that Imogen didn't hear the tapes. Maybe she never knew how she was blinded, and what would telling her have achieved?

It occurred to me that the thing that Rosamund seemed to want most was to be a mother (to Theo or Imogen) and yet, by recording the tapes, she apparently seemed to have a total disregard for how they might have been received, and the damage they might have done. A real contradiction - and this made the Rosamund character multi-faceted and more interesting (for me, anyway).

I guess Rosamund left me cold in that I didn't warm to her. But I did find her voice authentic, I felt like she was just using a different tone in remembering and describing scenes and events, so it reads more stiffly than something with, say, dialogue, or the usual to-ing and fro-ing of characters in a book.

I think you're right though, her formality of voice makes it hard to get under her skin

Definitely, her frustrated motherhood ambitions seemed to be a massive factor in putting all this on tape. I even found her love of the young Thea a bit scary at times, a bit obsessive.

In my head, Rosamund looks like the woman from the film Misery, That's not good, is it.

ggglimpopo Tue 01-Jul-08 20:04:48

Hello. I heard you talk in Bordeaux (introducing Britiannia Hospital). Are you coming back soon?

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 20:07:11

I didn't take to Rosamund. I agree with what has been said so far about her frustrated parenting dreams, and selfish reasons for making the tapes.

I enjoyed the book though, I have to say.

beforesunrise Tue 01-Jul-08 20:08:03

i think rosamond is a very rational person who thinks rather than feels her emotions- i that makes sense? also, she suffered a massive heartbreak when her first lover left her, and i do wonder whether she wasn't mourning her lover rather than Thea. so trying to reach out to Imogen is really a way to reconcile with... sorry names escapes me.. .Rachel or Rebecca?

Also, did you find that knowking it was by Jonathan Coe made the stoy different, becasue you were expecting something different?

Its such a world away from his usual 'style' - I found I noticed the sadness more than I might have done if the author name had been blanked out and I'd read it blind (so to speak)

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 20:10:10

I'd never read any of his books before, so came at it with absolutely no preconceptions.

I did decide to read some more of his stuff after I had finished it, but library doesn't stock any shock

So, have asked for some for my birthday next week...

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 20:10:43

My overwhelming feeling about the book was despondence.

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 20:11:04

Meant to say that, even not having read any of his stuff before, I did find it sad and quite moving in places. Even though I didn't like her particularly, I was still able to feel for her.

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 20:11:17

Hello all.

I did like this book,but I didn't really warm to the characters....

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 20:11:52

This is my first Coe too and I'm really interested to read his other books (particularly the funny ones.......!)

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 20:13:08

lalaa - if you like we can get together on another thread and do a mini book swap?

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 20:13:45

What did everyone think about the idea to use photographs to push along the narrative?

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 20:14:24

I didn't find Rosamond's need to unburden herself to Imogen a complete turnoff though. I thought her impulse was a very human one. We see threads on here very often in which women mull over whether to divulge a hurtful and damaging secret to someone they love.

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 20:15:35

mini book swap sounds good, squonk!

beforesunrise Tue 01-Jul-08 20:17:42

Lalaa, i though that quite contrived- it doesn't feel like someone one would do in real life. although, hang on a minute... it does actually fit with my perception of rosamond as a really cerebral person- like she wanted something to grasp on so as not to get too emotional in telling the story.

so actually- it fits the character. and explains some of the "coldness". whcih might have been deliberate, rathern than R's real nature...

Light-bulb moment!

beforesunrise Tue 01-Jul-08 20:18:12

(Apologies for spelling- i am one handed AND cooking dinner at same time)

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 20:18:33

Has anyone read The House of Sleep? I thought there was great poignancy in the exploration of love derailed (Sarah/Robert) so I didn't find the deep sadness of The Rain a surprise.
I like Coe best when he is being tender, I found the biting cynicism of What A Carve-Up! funny but too bleak

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 20:18:56

mini book swap here

I thought the photograph idea was a good one, and I thought it added another dimension to the story. It was a good way of "setting the scene"

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 20:20:23

I liked the theme of the photographs. I enjoyed the descriptions unfolding.

It also made me think how would I describe my life and if I chose photographs what would I choose?

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 20:22:09

Same here billybass, I didn't find it too contrived - and JC's prose is so lovely to read I honestly don't mind

Do we think it was all Beatrix's mother's fault (she started the chain of abuse)? or was it Beatrix's (and Thea's) responsibility to walk away from the cruelty they suffered and try to make a better life for their own children?

Is there any excuse for Thea's shaking of Imogen? It seems like the book makes a point of saying there is pattern behind all this. But I feel she should have taken control of herself - there's no excuse.

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 20:22:41

I didn't like the photograph idea very much, but maybe that's because I get impatient with lots of description.

wheelybug Tue 01-Jul-08 20:22:54

I have read House of Sleep although a very long time ago - it was my first Coe !

I agree about this being very different though (although my memory is a bit hazy of HoS). I think if I'd read it blind I would never have guessed the author but I guess that's testament to Jonathan Coe's versatility.

I too liked the framework of the photographs - gave the stories a very visual quality. Although I did question whether they would have taken as many photos as they seemed to have done at the start of the story given the timeframe.

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 20:25:22

I think that Beatrix and Thea should have taken personal responsibility for their actions and tried their utmost to break the cycle. I blame Beatrix more than Thea though.

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 20:27:08

The monstrous Ivy and her husband are quite well-to-do though, aren't they - might that explain the seeming luxury of a camera
I see Ivy's vile treatment of Beatrix over that revolting dog as the start of the process that ends with Imogen's blindness

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 20:27:36

Back after putting dcs to bed hmm

love that idea billybass, I'm lost in trying to think about which photos i'd choose now. And thinking about future photos there may be once I'm Rosamund's age (like me with my own grandchildren. weird thought)

I thought the descriptive prose was beautiful too. I did sort of wish there were photos included in the book, I kept wanting to see the faces.

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 20:28:27

I blamed Beatrix more than Thea, but whether that was because we learned more about Beatrix's selfishness throughout the book, I don't know.

Did everyone think that Rosamund blamed herself for Imogen's blindness? if she had fought harder to keep Thea, then presumably things would have been different (although she may not have been born in the first place)

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 20:29:22

I would have liked the characters to have broken the pattern. I found it infuriating that they didn't. Did Beatrix's mum get badly treated too? I suspect the fault lines would have run back through the generations.

I liked to think that Imogen was happily married with lovely children who adored her. I am a sucker for a happy ending though.

wheelybug Tue 01-Jul-08 20:31:28

I agree that the cycle of violence started with Ivy. Her contempt for her daughter must have had quite an impact on her. However, that doesn't excuse Beatrix or Thea who could have broken the cycle of violence. However, don't they often say that abusers are those who have been abused ?

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 20:32:55

Message withdrawn

lemurtamer Tue 01-Jul-08 20:33:51

I didn't get the feeling that she did blame herself for Imogen's blindness, but that overall while she felt very strongly about Thea and then Imogen, also had lost contact or been prevented from contact during some points. When she insists that she should look after Imogen and the social worker points out they hardly know each it flags up how much of the connection is just Rosamund creating it, not a two-way thing.

lalaa Tue 01-Jul-08 20:35:06

yes, squonk, agree about Rosamund losing Thea and blaming herself for Imogen's blindness. It's as though she thinks she would have stopped the cycle if she'd been the 'mother figure' she wanted to be.

I think Rosamund must have felt embroiled in all that unhappiness and felt guilt that she couldn't do anything about it. I don't know if I felt she blamed herself for the blindness specifically.

Its quite odd reading a book with all female characters isn't it. Not sure I've ever read one that's entirely female before.

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 20:39:34

I felt as though Rosamund wasn't putting Imogen's needs first however but wanted contact with Imogen as a way of staying in contact with Thea.

yes, lemurtamer, I felt that Rosamund was after Imogen for her own reasons. I thought Imogen would somehow suffer even more emotional baggage if Rosamund was looking after her. I wanted Imogen to be entirely free of the whole lot of them.

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 20:42:14

Message withdrawn

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 20:42:44

Message withdrawn

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 20:44:50

I have noticed that book club threads often get like that, pruners grin

lemurtamer Tue 01-Jul-08 20:44:53

It was quite surprising that Rebecca didn't come back into the narrative, and that neither we nor Rosamund ever found out why she left. While many men in real life and fiction have done this, I would have thought it was more rare in a woman. And so Rosamund never seemed to really get over this loss and the loss of Thea.

lemurtamer Tue 01-Jul-08 20:48:52

Another seemingly random post: the curious thing about this book to me is the reverse situation with photos and the older generation, my grandmother. She started losing her sight in her 50s, and in a fury destroyed most of the family photos, because she didn't want people laughing at the clothes they used to wear. My father did find some more eventually, and we had to try to piece together who was who in the pictures, as by that time my grandmother couldn't see them at all. So we described pictures to her and she tried to remember who was in them.

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 20:50:21

re: rebecca - I got the impression that she loved the family life that they had with Thea that she left and married a bloke and had kids... didn't Rosamund see her in a cafe with a bloke and some children?

anyway, that was the impression that I got

It was the loss of Thea, wasn't it, that drove Rebecca away? Which must be devastating for Rosamund, if their relationship only made sense when there was a child with them.

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 20:50:56

lemurtamer that was nice.Photos can be funny things.Not everyone wants a record of their life.

wheelybug Tue 01-Jul-08 20:55:01

Maybe it was the case with Rebecca that the relationship had run its course for her and Thea had made it work again (The 'staying together for the children' cliche) and when she was no longer there, there was nothing else.

love that story lemurtamer.

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 20:58:12

I thought that Beatrix was Rosamunds greatest love rather than Rebecca even though Rosamund denied this.
What do you think?

lemurtamer Tue 01-Jul-08 20:58:49

I had forgotten that she'd seen Rebecca, and yes that makes sense.
Am now feeling quite tearful about my grandmother.

Yes, billybass, I agree. Beatrix was the dominant force in her life. Rebecca was a holiday, but Beatrix was always the main event.

lemurtamer Tue 01-Jul-08 21:03:21

I thought it was more that Beatrix gave her a feeling of family, which is why she was so desperate to keep Thea and then Imogen, to continue this. Although aren't we all trying to recreate or heal our family in our choice of partner?

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 21:03:36

Oh, yes, billybass, agreed
Is anyone else wondering about Beatrix and Rosamond Lehmann, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Rebecca West btw?
Lemurtamer, what a vivid story. We have a very precious and much pored-over family album too, all of it captionless and part of an oral tradition

It's time. I am now delighted to introduce Mr Jonathan Coe...

Jonathan is going to post answers to the advance questions first, and then he'll be answering all your messages till 10pm.

Jonathan, first of all, thank you very very much for joining us...

lemurtamer Tue 01-Jul-08 21:06:10

Marina, I wasn't, because I'm not that high-brow! Don't even know who I C-B was.

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:07:57

Hello everyone. What a weird experience this is. Have never done this before, so I’m sorry if it doesn’t really look as though I know what I’m doing. Anyway, thanks to the people who voted for my book, and thanks to the people who read it even when it wasn’t their choice. I had a look at some of the earlier posts and wrote a couple of answers already. So here – Valerie Singleton style – is one I made earlier:

By lalaa on Mon 30-Jun-08 16:32:32

I found I liked Rosamund less and less as the book progressed. I found her to be very self-orientated and I began to feel quite angry with her. There were points in the narrative after Thea's return to her mother where I was thinking why would Rosamund want to tell Imogen this apart from to make herself feel better? My question to Jonathan is, did you intend to make the reader feel this way? (Or was it just me?!)

OK: Since it was published I've found that readers of the novel divide into two groups: those who like Rosamond, and those who don't. Personally, I'm in the first of these groups, but that doesn't make either of them 'right'. Certainly her motives are ambiguous. She says that she wants Imogen to know the truth, but, as you say, she is also telling this story in order to make herself feel better. My own view is that, at the end of her life, after the disappointments she's had, she's entitled to do that. Also I think there is ambiguity about whether she really expects Imogen to hear the tapes, and therefore who she is talking to - to Imogen, or to herself? So her position is unclear, and the status of the narrative is unclear. What I didn't want, though, was for her to be a straightforward "unreliable narrator", whose version of events has to be decoded or seen through. Sometimes she is reliable, sometimes she isn't.

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 21:08:16
lemurtamer Tue 01-Jul-08 21:08:25

My question is what makes a male author want to write as a female narrator, especially a lesbian one? I don't mean that as a criticism, as I didn't wonder this while reading the book.

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:09:01

lalaa again: Also, here's another one: what led you to choose the device of using photographs to map out the narrative?

Two things. One was a general sense that there hadn't been enough (or even any) visual description in my earlier books - where the stories tend to be driven by dialogue - and this time I wanted to do something different. The other was the experience of looking through old family photograph albums with my own young daughters, telling them the stories behind each photograph, and realising that in this way it was possible to construct a whole family history from photographic sources. (Because I don't come from a family who use the written word very much, and there are hardly any letters or anything like that between my parents or grandparents.)

lemurtamer Tue 01-Jul-08 21:11:38

(Marina, thank you.)

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:12:42

lemurtamer: I write novels in order to escape myself (I think most writers do that, to one degree or another) and so writing in the voice of a female character is a way of slipping out of my own gender for a few hours every day. A great relief sometimes, I can tell you!

I made her a lesbian partly because of the undercurrent of that in some of Rosamond Lehmann's fiction (esp. Dusty Answer) but also for obvious plot reasons - I wanted her to be childless, to be situated outside the traditional nuclear family and yearningly looking in.

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 21:13:44

Message withdrawn

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:14:49

By the way, to the poster who asked me if I'm coming back to Bordeaux - yes, if the owners of that lovely cinema invite me again. (Which, so far, they haven't ...)

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 21:15:10

Me too lt and pruners, it's one of the things that draws me to your novels very strongly Jonathan

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:19:59

Thank you, Marina. Here's an answer to your earlier question about France:

By Marina on Mon 30-Jun-08 20:37:48

I'd like to ask Jonathan what he feels about his popularity in France. I found it curiously funny and touching to see a copy of Les Nains de la Mort in a bookshop in Lille, alongside his more recent and extensively promoted novels.

Do you get involved with the translation of your novels into French? Why do you think it is that the French "get" you and appreciate your writing? Could it be that they savoured the bleak picture of modern Britain painted in What a Carve-Up? Interesting choice of title too, Testament a l'Anglaise...

Yes, it's very strange. My popularity in France is a mystery to me as well. I also do very well in Italy and Greece, but I've sunk like a stone in Spain and Germany. Go figure ... But actually British writing is very popular in all of those places. The shameful thing is that we don't reciprocate - when was a modern Greek novel last translated into English? It's partly to do with the cultural clout of the English language, I suppose, and the head start that this gives to British and American writing. I know the French also value (maybe more than we do) that 20th century British tradition of satire and irony which includes Evelyn Waugh, David Lodge and Tom Sharpe - all of whom are well-loved over there - and when What a Carve Up came out they saw me as falling into that tradition. The Rain Before It Falls hasn't been published there yet, and I'm a little nervous, because it's not the kind of book they'll be expecting from me. (In Italy and Greece my most popular book is The House of Sleep, so this one wasn't seen as so much of a departure.)

I don't get involved with the translation at all. I'm friends with my translators, who are a very nice married couple from Paris, but I don't interfere with their work. My French is terrible anyway.

snowleopard Tue 01-Jul-08 21:21:34

I wonder which other novelists you admire and what you think of recent novels generally - as yours always seem so different and not influenced by trends or other leading novelists. If that makes sense!

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:21:49

I seem to have stunned everyone into silence. I think I'll go and see if my daughters are in bed yet.

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 21:22:58

Jonathan - there are a couple of us here tonight who have only read this one book of yours.

We are going to rectify that situation forthwith, of course.

What would you recommend that we start with?

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 21:23:40

now that's real mumsnetting that is, leaving a thread to go and check on the kids. Next you'll be typing one-handed as you feed a baby grin

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 21:24:47

Message withdrawn

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:26:30

Squonk: I don't know - if you liked this one, try The House of Sleep maybe. I've got a soft spot for The Rotters' Club because it's largely about my adolescence. What a Carve Up, as someone mentioned earlier, is quite a bleak and angry book by comparison, although it's got some jokes in. (It's not really one of my own favourites.) Depends what sort of thing you like ...

Jonathan, we've been debating a few things earlier on and I wondered if you could give us your take on them:

Does Rosamund blame herself for Imogen's blindness?

Is Beatrix really the love of Rosamund's life?

And is the pattern that Rosamund describes as the 'meaning behind everything' the cycle of abuse, or is she trying to make some sense of it all? Is she making things worse or better by trying to pass on all this information?

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 21:27:23

thank you.

I suspect we'll read them all grin kids asleep? wink

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 21:27:24

Very funny squonk...

Jonathan who was your favourite character in The rain before it falls and why?

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 21:28:52

Message withdrawn

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:29:23

Pruners: after concentrating on mothers and daughters in this latest one, I'm trying to get started on a novel about a father-son relationship. But it looks like being back to the tone and scale of my earlier books - a big narrative, lots of characters, plenty of comic scenes, and so on. And a contemporary setting. Funnily enough he becomes addicted to an internet discussion group a bit like this one.

And flagging up a question from earlier in the thread
By TheOldestCat on Tue 01-Jul-08 19:22:04
I'd like to ask Jonathan Coe 'what did you think of The Rotters' Club telly adaptation'?

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 21:31:31

addicted to an internet discussion site?

as if!


JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:32:00

OK, I'm having trouble keeping up now. (And no, they're still awake.) Snowleapord: I like Kazuo Ishiguro, Scarlett Thomas, Charlotte Mendelson, Joanne Briscoe, Haruki Murakami, Alasdair Gray, loads of others. I get sent a lot of novels by publishers and I must say enough good ones come through my letterbox each week to make me think the novel is in reasonably good shape. Catherine O'Flynn was one which came that way - she's great.

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 21:32:06

And are there any plans to continue with a dramatisation of The Closed Circle?
TV adaptations of well-loved books often disappoint but you had an excellent cast for The Rotters' Club at least

I'd also like to ask: how did you feel when writing this book - was it a very different experience from writing the previous, more comic novels. Or is each book a completely different process anyway?

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 21:34:24

I really liked the writing. I could "hear" Rosamond speaking and it felt autthentic to me. Amazing what good education you could find on the outskirts of Birmingham. Or maybe it was the many years in publishing that gave her such a good way with words.

The bit at the end where everything gets tied up - Imogen's death, that blackbird falling on the car - I think the book didn't really need that. I was surprised to see them thrown in, too irrational compared to the writing style before it. Also the chase of the dogs, I don't think the book needed that either.

I think Rosamond mentioned at some stage she had no interest in politics but I was still surprised to see no mention at all.

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:34:41

Tilly: no, I don't think Rosamond blames herself for Imogen's blindness. Maybe she should, but she doesn't go in for self-blame much. I see Rebecca as the love of her life, not Beatrix, but feel free to see otherwise! I think she is (perhaps misguidedly) trying to make things better by passing on all this information - she's trying to find a pattern to her life's experience in the largest sense. But she's telling the story to help herself as much as she is to enlighten Imogen, I think.

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 21:37:15

Message withdrawn

carriemumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 01-Jul-08 21:39:38

Sorry haven't finished this month's book blush though am enjoying it so far smile, but loved the Rotters Club - both the book and Tv adaptation. You say the book was largely autobiographical - what was it like seeing your adolescence on screen, and were you happy with the adaptation?

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 21:40:59

Why did you go for such a predictable lifestyle for Rosamond? In publishing, partner an artist, living in Hampstead.

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:41:21

I liked the Rotters' Club TV adaptation very much. I knew it could hardly go wrong once Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were on board to write it. It was just a shame that we had 4 hours of good footage and the BBC insisted on a 3-hour series: the last episode was rushed, as a result. I think they were also disappointed in the ratings which is why a Closed Circle adaptation has never been given the go-ahead. Pity. I'm pissed off that they've never put it out on a DVD though.

Cristina: yes, you're not alone in feeling that about the ending. It feels absolutely right to me, but I know some readers find it too pat. Tastes differ, etc. The blackbird falling is another Rosamond Lehmann reference by the way - it's from her memoir The Swan in the Evening, when she describes how she found out about (or intuited) her own daughter's death on the other side of the world. I used her own exact words in the description.

The chase of the dogs is a story from my own family. It has personal significance for me, which was maybe why I dwelt on it so much.

I just couldn't find room for any politics in this one. I wanted to keep it short. (Although there is a lot of family politics, of course.)

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 21:44:52

that it never came out on DVD, is that likely to change
I was living next door to the swimming pool from 1981 onwards so relished the vivid sense of a familiar place in The Rotters' Club
Rasmus Hardiker was born to play Philip...

MorocconOil Tue 01-Jul-08 21:45:05

I found Rosamond a likeable character until the end of her relationship with Rebecca. After that she seemed very needy and self-absorbed. Her concern for Thea and Imogen seemed to be more about meeting her own needs. Was this intentional?

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:46:04

Pruners. I wrote The Accidental Woman 24 years ago, I'm really not exaggerating when I say I find it hard to remember anything about the inspiration. But no, I'm pretty sure Maria wasn't based on anyone I knew. Nice to know someone remembers the book though.

Cristina. I didn't want Rosamond's career, or her main live-in relationship, to interest the reader at all. To me they're completely incidental to the main narrative of her life. So I decided to give her a fairly cliched "backstory" which would not distract the reader's attention at all. Oh, and I made Ruth a painter simply because I wanted one of the pictures described to be a painting.

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 21:47:27

I enjoyed this book. Thanks Jonathan for an interesting chat.

I will check out some more of your work now that I enjoyed this one.

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 21:48:08

Can you have a long-term love & partnership with someone, like Rosamond and Ruth, while keeping big secrets from each other (Rebecca)?

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:49:40

Mimizan: Yes, I suppose so. At least, I'm sorry if you lose sympathy with her altogether from that point, but certainly her life from then on becomes overshadowed by this terrible sense of loss and it does make her self-absorbed and a bit self-pitying. She's been depressed for about forty years, really, by the time she starts narrating.

I think a DVD of The Rotters' Club is held up by rights issues over all the music they used on the soundtrack (very expensive to clear) and a general sense that in ratings terms it was a bit of a flop. I have the sense that the BBC feel they "did the 1970s" much better and more successfully in Life on Mars.

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 21:49:57

Thanks, Jonathan. In fact I agree that a different career etc would have been a distraction.

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 21:50:08

Message withdrawn

(flagging up an earlier question from billybass)

By billybass on Tue 01-Jul-08 21:27:24
Very funny squonk...

Jonathan who was your favourite character in The rain before it falls and why?

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:52:15

Cristina: well, it turns out in the last of Rosamond's chapters that Ruth has known all along that Rosamond had a greater love, which she has never spoken about, and that she (Ruth) was second best. She doesn't know the name, but she has sensed (and lived with) the existence of this other grand passion all along. So it has never really been a secret between them.

Billybass: thank you, I'm glad you liked the book.

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 21:53:23

Why did Rosamond want to kill herself in the end? There was something at the beginning of the book how Gill had been expecting that call for a while but I can't remember if it was made clear at any stage if Rosamond was ill.

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 21:55:23

I know Ruth knew she was second best, I was just surprised that they never openly spoke about Rebecca.

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 21:56:09

Do you think Rosamond liked Dr May a bit?

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:56:44

"My favourite character"? Well, Rosamond is the one I lived with, and spoke through, for the eighteen months or so that I spent writing it, so she is certainly the one I feel closest to - with all her faults. And I tend to fall in love with at least one of my female characters while I'm writing a book - in this case it was Rebecca. (Not named after Rebecca West by the way - nor is Ivy named after Ivy Compton-Burnett. Funny how the coincidences pile up.)

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 21:57:21

What are you reading to your daughters at the moment? (If they're still young enough to be read books.)

MorocconOil Tue 01-Jul-08 21:58:20

No I didn't lose sympathy with her, it was just as though the 'fun' side of her disappeared. However as you say she was then very depressed, and I think your description of this was spot on.

I read Notes From an Exhibition, by Patrick Gale just before your book, and I found there were quite a few similarities. Have you read it?

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 21:59:41

What are you reading to your daughters at the moment? (If they're still young enough to be read books.)

No, they're both reading for themselves now. My seven year old has just finished Cliffhanger by Jacqueline Wilson (v funny), and my ten year old has just read a novel called The Breadwinner. Can't remember the author, but she said it was brilliant.

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 22:02:28

I read Notes From an Exhibition, by Patrick Gale just before your book, and I found there were quite a few similarities. Have you read it?

No, but I want to. He's another contemporary author I always try to keep up with. I've heard there are similarities between the two books, because his and mine went head-to-head for a place on Richard and Judy. He won. Of course, I'd be bitter about it if he wasnt't such a lovely man ...

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 22:02:40

Do your daughters badger you to write children's books?

We should call it a day and let Jonathan get to bed (or at least go and pour himself a very large drink)...

Jonathan, thank you so much for talking to us all. It has been brilliant. Hope the experience has given you some valuable material for the next book...

ggglimpopo Tue 01-Jul-08 22:02:56

I will talk personally to the owners of the Femina tomorrow and your invite will be in the post sharpish.

I am the quasi blonde who was simpering from the balcony by the way - I would have come and said hello last time but as I was weaving my way towards you my husband said something dismissive about the swarming groupies and I had to pretend to have been looking for the exit.

I hope they all took you out for a good dinner afterwards.

The bookshop 'Alice' is very hot on having writers in, should Femina not come up trumps. They have a restaurant and a damn fine wine list, so would not be a bad choice. I keep waiting for them to ask me to talk, but alas.

If I had read 'The House of Sleep' first, I would not have read any more of your books. Luckily it was just a borrowed copy and was one of the later ones I read.

JonathanCoe Tue 01-Jul-08 22:04:37

A large drink, what a great idea Tilly. Thanks to everyone for their questions. It wasn't quite the ordeal I was expecting. Goodnight everyone!

fryalot Tue 01-Jul-08 22:05:00

Jonathan, thank you smile

twas nice to "meet" you and I very much look forward to reading some more of your books.

Pruners Tue 01-Jul-08 22:05:47

Message withdrawn

CristinaTheAstonishing Tue 01-Jul-08 22:06:02

Thank you. I look fowrward to your next books.

Marina Tue 01-Jul-08 22:06:17

Don't forget your English pals gggl
Thanks for coming to see us Jonathan, you've made a lot of frazzled mothers very happy tonight
Very much looking forward to that next novel - will it be linked at all to The Closed Circle?

MorocconOil Tue 01-Jul-08 22:08:37

Goodnight. Thanks and I am going to read more of your books now.

TheOldestCat Tue 01-Jul-08 22:27:41

Thanks, Jonathan.

Loved 'The Rotters' Club' on telly too; sad to hear there's unlikely to be a Closed Circle adaptation.

billybass Tue 01-Jul-08 22:35:40

Goodnight all thanks for a lovely discussion.

Thanks for organising the author chat Tilly.

FlossieTCake Tue 01-Jul-08 23:49:26


Minor logistical collapse here and only just online I really really wanted to join this one too. JC fantastic and have been saving this one up since my birthday

Tilly, I really wanted to ask about the flute music - whether it was inspired by a real composition or completely invented. Any chance of a post-question??

sophiewd Wed 02-Jul-08 09:32:14

I am so sorry I missed this, doing B&B with a 10 day old is not condusive to intellectual conversation, I read this in hospital and took a while to get into but I did enjoy it. I will try to get round to reading some more of his as everyone seems to rave about them.

Flossie, sad you couldn't make it. I'll email Jonathan now about the flute music - its definitely a real piece but can't quite remember what it is.

Sophie, def try The Rotters Club, its incredibly funny.

I'm working on July selection and will put up page soon.

(and thanks everyone for a great discussion last night)

Marina Wed 02-Jul-08 15:26:10

Thank you for organising it Tilly

Flossie, Jonathan emailed me back about the flute music:
it's based on a CD called Slow Life, by Theo Travis. (He says the details are given at the front of the book? I can't find my copy but there may be more info there)

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