In the mid-1980s, Jonathan Coe (born in 1961), just out of Cambridge, was working on his doctoral thesis on Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones at Warwick University while at the same time writing his first novel, a fairly conventional Bildungsroman about a student in Cambridge. When he chanced upon the original and challenging work of B. S. Johnson, an experimental novelist of the 1960s–1970s, he fell so powerfully under his spell that he gave up the novel he was currently writing and started a new one, The AccidentalWoman (1987), whose metafictional devices and narratorial interventions are very much indebted to B. S. Johnson. Twenty years later, in 2007, Coe published his eighth novel, The Rain Before It Falls, which once again centred on a female character and was written as a homage to Rosamond Lehmann (1901–90) and the female novelists of the early twentieth century published under the Virago Modern Classics imprint (Dorothy Richardson, May Sinclair, Antonia White). Taking advantage of the 20-year span to have a retrospective look at Coe’s oeuvre, the following interview focuses more particularly on this recent novel and sheds light on the ways in which it differs from Coe’s previous work — that is, both from his relatively experimental first novels (The Accidental Woman, A Touch of Love , The Dwarves of Death ), and from his great achievements in comic and political satire (Whata Carve Up! , The Rotters’ Club , The Closed Circle ). Coe also discusses his fascination for B. S. Johnson that led him to write a monumental biography, Like a Fiery Elephant. The Story of B. S. Johnson (2004), which won the Samuel Johnson Prize.
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