Jan 30, 2012 - Articles    3 Comments

5 Books That Make Jonathan Coe A Great Writer


When I was in high-school, I remember that most teachers used to tell us the same thing when they wanted us to understand just how important it was to learn what they were trying to tell us. The phrase was: “If somebody wakes you in the middle of the night and asks you the meaning of/the formula for/the result to God knows what equation, you must know the right answer.”

Now, if you were to wake me up in the middle of the night, I don’t know if I would be able to instantly tell you  how much is 1+1. But if you were to ask me what was the best book I have ever read, I would answer, without any hesitation: The House of Sleep. Then I would go back to sleep.

And this is just one of the 5 books that make Jonathan Coe a great writer.

1. The House Of Sleep

The House Of Sleep is an amazing book, because it has everything that it needs to be this way. What are you looking for when buying a book? I, for one, am searching for a captivating plot, interesting characters and a nice writing style…or, at least, one of these things. In this book, the action evolves around one building that used to be a University and now is a clinic that treats sleep disorders. The characters, who were once the students there, somehow end up being part of the building in its present state. And the chapters, that are brilliantly named after the phases of sleep, alternate the action between the time when the building used to be a University, and the present moment. Filled with twists and turns, The House of Sleep will leave you with at least one thing to think about after closing it: how much time we would have if we would no longer need to sleep.

2. The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim

Another book that will leave you thinking about it days after finishing it, is Coe’s latest novel, The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim. Although there were some who didn’t quite find the ending to be what they were looking for, in my opinion, it was exactly the twist that the book needed to be remembered. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it, because I know just how important an ending is to a book. I’ll only tell you this: the book starts with a middle aged man, who is found unconscious and half naked in his car, with a trunk filled with over 400 toothbrushes and a bag containing some mysterious postcards received from the Middle East. The story behind this event is as unexpected as it is fascinating.

3. The Rain Before It Falls

A book that brings out more proof that when it comes to writing, Coe is ready to break all boundaries, is The Rain Before It Falls. The most interesting thing about this book is that it is written from a woman’s perspective. And judging by the fact that not only the narrator, but also all of the main characters are women, it’s really impressive and interesting to see a man writing so well from a woman’s perspective. And if you used to skip the descriptive passages in a book, The Rain Before It Falls will make you enjoy them. Because that is what the novel is all about: the audio recordings of  20 pictures that are being described by the main character, and found after her death. Of course, the recordings hide a lot of secrets that will unravel before your eyes with every chapter that you read.

4. What A Carve Up

Besides twists and turns, Coe is really good at creating characters that are so well shaped that you will grow to love or hate them. What A Carve Up is mainly a novel describing one of the most horrid characters that you’ve ever read about. And, secondly, it’s a mystery novel that will hold you at the edge of your seat, while discovering the story behind a tragic and suspicious death. Which one of these horrible characters can be capable of murder? And what happens when you gather them all under the same roof, on a rainy night that seems cut out of a horror movie? These are only a few of the questions that What A Carve Up will answer.

5. The Rotters’ Club

But, as I said, there are also characters who you are going to love. The Rotters’ Club, along with its sequel, The Closed Circle, is a two part novel that will get you so involved in the characters’ lives that you will feel as if you are watching a tv show. Written with a great deal of irony, it’s one of those novels that will make whoever is next to you when you’re reading it think that you’re insane. That’s because it is so funny that you won’t be able to stop yourself from bursting into laughter. At first sight, the novel is all about teenagers, their feelings and identity crisis. But, since it is a Jonathan Coe novel, the story is more than just a high-school musical.

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  • Very nice recommendations. My favourite Coe novel is “What a Carve Up!”, but “The House of Sleep” comes right after it. I think these six novels would also be my six picks, although I have not read “A Touch of Love” yet.

    • Thanks 🙂 “What a Carve Up” is actually the most recent Jonathan Coe book I’ve read, while “The House Of Sleep” started all this Jonathan Coe madness, since it was the first of his books that I’ve read. So, besides the plot and the great writing, the fact that I’ve never read a similar book before also has a great deal to do with it being my favorite novel. I didn’t read “A Touch Of Love” either, so guess there’s still room for surprise.

      Hope you’ll find the necessary boost to go on writing about Coe’s style and patterns on your site 🙂

  • Cool blog!

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