UK 2008 cover

Jonathan Coe writes:

“Each of my novels seems to be a reaction to the one that came before it. After the tricksy, multi-layered narrative of A Touch of Love, I decided to write something simpler. At the back of my mind, undoubtedly was my disappointment with the terrible sales of my first two published books. The Dwarves of Death, therefore, was really the only time I chose the tone and form of a book for commercial reasons – hoping to increase my sales – and this taught me a useful lesson, because what I ended up writing was (in my view) my weakest novel.

The story grew out of my experience of playing in a band called The Peer Group during the mid-1980s. The band was formed in 1985, when I was still studying at Warwick University. Most of the other members, however, were medial students at Guy's Hospital in South London, so that was where our rehearsals usually took place. We began by playing mainly my own compositions, which tended to be tuneful, jazzy instrumentals in the vein associated with Canterbury-school bands like Caravan and Hatfield and the North. Gradually we moved in a more poppy direction, and ended up sounding (or trying to sound) a bit like Everything But The Girl or Prefab Sprout. Our most distinctive feature was the quirky, oblique lyrical content of the songs – all the worlds were written by our drummer, Ralph Pite, now the biographer of Thomas Hardy and chair of the English Department at Bristol University.

And so the musical background to the novel feels well-researched to me and gives me a pleasant nostalgic glow. But I'm less happy with the murder-mystery plot which I grafted onto it. This plot doesn't really work and indeed when I tried to adapt the book for the screen (as Five Seconds To Spare) it proved even more intractable.

This was my only novel published by Fourth Estate in the UK. It was also my first book to be translated. The Dutch translation was by Cecilia Tabak, who would also translate The Rain Before It Falls almost twenty years later.

My short story ‘V.O.’, contained in the Penguin collection 9th and 13th, is a sort of sequel to this novel, revisiting the hero, William, a few years later when he has become a well-known composer of film music.

The novel contains the music for a tune of mine called ‘Tower Hill’. On Facebook I found that a French fan called Fabien LaBonde had transcribed the tune, and you can see this transcription here. Thanks, Fabien, wherever you are!”

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  • UK 2000 cover
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  • UK 1991 cover
  • UK 1990 cover
  • French 2002 cover
  • French 2001 cover
  • Italian 2010 cover
  • Italian 2008 cover
  • Italian 2000 cover
  • Italian 1996 cover
  • Dutch 1991 cover
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jonathan coe portrait imageJonathan Coe was born on 19 August 1961 in Lickey, a suburb of south-west Birmingham. His father worked in the motor industry as a research physicist; his mother was a music and PE teacher.
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