Jonathan Coe: The author in his own words
British author Jonathan Coe’s latest book has just come out in Greek from Polis publishers. «The Closed Circle,» translated by Leo Kalovirnas (as «O Kleistos Kyklos») is an informal sequel to «The Rotters’ Club.» His characters, who were young during the 1970s, have since grown up and are trying to come to terms with their choices while looking back on the past. The novel is a humorous – but also bittersweet – commentary on the Britain of Tony Blair, which appears to be dominated by the spirit of conservatism in the wake of September 11. In Greece last week for the launching of his book, Coe spoke to Kathimerini about the Britain of his youth and maturity. How did you avoid fixating on the past in «The Closed Circle» given the importance the past has for the heroes of the book? I don’t know if I did avoid it. Nostalgia is one of the themes in the book. I didn’t want to glorify the 1970s, but there are moments in the book when that is exactly how the heroes think, for better or worse. Nostalgia Apart from nostalgia, I wanted to show that human nature, human behavior, remains the same. It’s strange: When «The Rotters’ Club» came out, lots of my former classmates wanted to see me. I met them all and had that strange experience of facing someone I had known as an adolescent, who was no longer young, whose features had changed, but whose character had not changed substantially. I try to render that duality in «The Closed Circle.» Perhaps what has changed is conservatism itself. Nowadays there are people who are profoundly conservative, but who have convinced themselves that they are progressive. Were things more clear-cut in the past? Yes, it’s a very interesting phenomenon that is particularly noticeable in large cities. These people have respectable jobs and their children go to expensive private schools, but in their minds they’re still flower children. They sniff a bit of coke now and again, which is extremely expensive, of course, and listen to Led Zeppelin. They want to have it both ways. That is Blair’s great achievement. He knows that most people are conservative at heart. As a way of life, conservatism doesn’t frighten people. They can find their moorings; it makes them feels secure to be someone in society. Did the IRA bombs in London pubs in the 1970s have anything in common with Al Qaeda’s recent actions in London? Yes, they are linked in the minds of many people, and not just of Londoners. People of my generation remember the IRA; older people remember Hitler’s blitzkrieg. My generation was privileged to spend the greater part of their lives in a relatively safe environment, without upheavals and wars. It made us more conservative. You mean war makes people more radical? Yes, I think so. The welfare state that was created in Britain in 1945 was an outcome of the war. There was a spirit of idealism, a belief that the country could do a lot of things. There was a heroic spirit that we eventually got used to and forgot about when we realized we couldn’t get rich from it and started to dismantle it. That’s the stage we’re at now. In your books there is intense conflict between the inner world of your heroes and the external environment. It’s extremely hard for all of us to reconcile our inner world with the outer world. When Mrs Thatcher said, «There’s no such thing as society,» she made people forget about society, social issues and justice, and just concentrate on themselves and their hip pocket and let the free market take care of everything else. It allowed us to be selfish; it sanctified individualism. Many people saw it as a daring political proposition. If only she was right and society didn’t exist, but unfortunately that’s not how things are. – This article was translated from the Greek.