A TOUCH OF LOVE
By Jonathan Coe
I should begin by saying that I am a great fan of Jonathan Coe and am fascinated by his evolution as a writer. Traditionally, writers whose style changes significantly as they get older, tend to move from a more to less traditional format as they experiment and push the boundaries of narrative and fiction. Recently, this seems to be reversed in the work of David Mitchell or Jonathan Franzen and is certainly the case with Jonathan Coe. Perhaps this is a post-modernist phenomenon – what looks like experimentation is actually the dominant aesthetic and is thus a natural choice for narrative. Returning to a classical format of an all-seeing narrator and characters whose lives and action can be presented to us in authoritative detail has become the radical departure. Coe’s more recent writing reflects this change – his earlier work contains several inventive and original explorations of narrative, the more recent work, using a less inventive structure, is probably more satisfying. Yet I have a great affection for the early work. For this reason, the book I would recommend is A Touch of Love. The tragic-comic tone, the satirical evocation of failed academic ambition and the terrible sense of loss that seems to haunt much of Coe’s writing, combine in a truly skillful narrative. It is made more effective by the introduction of a series of short stories written by the main protagonist, Robin, which have the effect of both illuminating and clouding our understanding of their author. The change of style and the way we become engaged by these fictions within fictions are central to the novel. I’ve commented on how the narrative form has changed in Coe’s writing but what have not changed are his concerns – the decisions and moments that define our lives, the social and political pressures that impinge on our ability to realize ourselves, the nature of love and loss. You will find these in A Touch of Love as well as in his most recent work.