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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Touch of Love

Jonathan Coe

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To purchase A Touch of Love

Title: A Touch of Love
Author: Jonathan Coe
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989
Length: 156 pages
Availability: A Touch of Love - US
A Touch of Love - UK
A Touch of Love - Canada
A Touch of Love - India
Une touche d'amour - France
L'amore non guasta - Italia

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well thought through, poignant, and funny

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       A Touch of Love is an unpredictable and interesting little book. Centered around long-time graduate student Robin Grant who can't seem to get his thesis done, Coe circles obliquely around his subject. The artful construction of the novel -- intricate without being irritatingly complex -- is one of the pleasures of the novel, Coe's writing another.
       There are four parts to the novel (and a postscript), covering a time frame from April to December of 1986. Each part includes a story written by Robin, short fictions read by the other characters in the hope or illusion of the stories shedding some light on Robin. The stories themselves are fine as well, not nearly as artificial as such an authorial trick usually winds up being. Both in them and in the rest of the narrative Coe's own authorial command is always convincing, only rarely slipping to where it might seem contrived.
       Robin seems to be have become more depressed as the novel opens, and an old classmate from university -- Ted, who married Katharine, the woman Robin believes he might have been meant for -- drops by for a visit. They used to be friends but now lead very different lives, and Coe adeptly shows how they have grown apart. Even their memories of the past differ. In this, the longest section of the book, Coe carefully builds up the background for the rest.
       Robin does not appear in the second section, a few months later, but we find out that he has been accused of an improper act. His lawyer reads one of his stories, and she -- herself another lost soul, in a marriage that is falling apart -- is ultimately convinced that Robin should change his plea from not guilty to one of guilty. It is as much a legal decision (as a first offender Robin will not be treated harshly if he pleads guilty) as anything, but the ramifications of her decision, which Robin will take as a sign that she has lost faith in him, are far greater than expected.
       The third section reverts to Robin again, and elaborates on his relationship with the foreign student Aparna, a friend with whom he has never quite become intimate. Displaced Aparna enjoyed brief popularity years earlier as an exotic appearance at the university, but she too wants a different role -- and she too is unable to finish her thesis, unable to meet those expectations her advisor has. (Aparna as stereotype is the book's greatest failing -- Coe does not entirely convince with this exotic/foreign mumbo-jumbo: it seems far too dated or provincial an outlook to be believable in 1980's England.)
       Robin again only figures peripherally in the last section as his friends and his lawyer try to make sense of how he finally chose to deal with his situation. There is another story of his, and again it yields some clues.
       The book is filled with lonely and lost people. It is about a search for love and a search for meaning, and many of the characters -- Robin, Aparna, his lawyer, most of his friends -- are too tentative and unwilling to grasp at the opportunities they have. Aparna writes the postscript, having fled from the university and her thesis, wondering whether she and Robin could have had a different sort of relationship. Coe offers no easy answers, and he evokes the fleeting and delicate fabric of love and its possibility extremely well.
       It is not your usual university tale of lost souls. Poignant, yes, but almost none of the characters are boringly self-pitying (as is the norm in such tales). We can understand most of Robin's frustration, and it touches us.
       It is a small and varied book, Coe showing off what he can do and building up a very satisfactory structure. A thoughtful novel, we recommend it quite highly.

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A Touch of Love: Reviews: Jonathan Coe: Other books by Jonathan Coe under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Born in 1961, Jonathan Coe attended Cambridge and Warwick universities. He is the author of several novels.

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