'Middle England' but not in the middle
January 29, 2020 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to read Jonathan Coe's Middle England. How necessary is it to have read The Rotters' Club and/or The Closed Circle?

I enjoy finding the right "travel novel" to read when I am traveling solo, and as I am traveling to the UK solo in May, this is right up my alley.

However, I've just realized this book is in theory the third of a loose trilogy. I am wondering:

- How necessary (plot-wise) is it to have read the first two books? I know there are some book series where if you come in in the middle, you will have completely lost the thread, whereas other books in other series are written to be both good stand-alone novels as well as fit into the series.

- If I go ahead and read Middle England and then at some point later decide I want to read the first two novels, how badly will I have spoiled the first two -- will it be to the point where they won't be enjoyable?

To be honest, I am more interested in reading Middle England, because I'm more interested in contemporary Britain (and the novel's take on Brexit) than in Britain of the 1970s, but I'd like to know what I'm getting myself into.
posted by andrewesque to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd forgotten that I'd been intending to read it, so the reminder was helpful. A couple of chapters in, and there's been plenty of mention of the back story, and you don't need to interpolate anything.

There's things in the first two books that could be kind of spoiled, and they're given the amount of the character's headspace that big events in previous life stages are due, but they're referred to pretty obliquely.

The thing that made me gasp (mainly because as a local, I'd kind of picked up on the foreshadowing of the event) in the first book is not directly revealed, for example, but its
consequences are alluded to: you know the character's carrying trauma, but you don't know what.

So yes, I'd recommend reading it.
posted by ambrosen at 1:18 AM on January 30, 2020

It helps but is far from essential. You can enjoy Middle England without having read the other two. Though I had read the other two before, it was some time ago and I had completely forgotten them.
posted by TheRaven at 1:42 AM on January 30, 2020

I read Middle England without having read the other two. I had no idea that it wasn't a standalone until a week or two after I'd read it, when I spotted a table in Waterstones piled high with copies of all three under a sign celebrating the arrival of the third instalment. Ha. Oops. I'd enjoyed it enough that I picked up volumes 1 and 2 on the spot. Haven't got round to reading them yet, though, so can't comment on how reading book 3 first affects one's experience of its predecessors.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:06 AM on January 30, 2020

Thanks all! As there's several months before my trip, I've gone ahead and requested the first two books, since I do enjoy reading multi-book series where there are (well-written) payoffs from having read the first two. Plus I figure this will give me a chance to see if I like this author!
posted by andrewesque at 7:54 AM on February 1, 2020

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