Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

"The Lessons" by Naomi Alderman (Viking, 2010)

Some Oxford students cluster around rich, gay Mark, living in his Jericho house. Mark's doing a religion degree, which complicates his life-style. After finishing their degrees, they stay in touch. The narrator, James, and Jess leave to live in London. Mark marries a sister of a house-mate and becomes a father. Mark and James had a one-night fling at Oxford and now have an affair (James is otherwise straight). Mark has a car accident, killing his toddler. Then Mark and James live together in Italy. Years pass, then James meets Jess by chance. At the end he's on a train, leaving Mark forever.

I suppose it captures a certain "Brideshead Revisited" lifestyle, but it was a "so what" novel for me. Oxford gets the usual treatment - "What is Oxford? It is like a magician, dazzling viewers with bustle and glitter, misdirecting our attention. What was it for me? Indifferent tuition, uncomfortable accommodation, uninterested pastoral care" (p.155). There are a few moments of adumbration (the first chapter's a prolog) and some of reflection - "Every relationship has moments of exasperation and fear. And the work of the thing is to come through it, to learn how to bear it. And even if I could have explained this, Mark would never have understood it. He has always been rich enough that if something breaks he can simply throw it away and buy a new one" (p.200). The banter's unsurprizing albeit bouncy enough

'I think better on an empty stomach.' he frowned. 'Or is that sex?'
'You'd better work it out before you start the exam,' said Jess, 'or you'll confuse the invigilators.'
'Confuse or delight,' said Mark.'Don't you know you're allowed to take off anything you like once you're inside Exam Schools?'
We know. We knew all such ridiculous, beautiful tales and traditions (p.86)

She was one of the lead writers for the BAFTA-nominated online game Perspex City, which impresses me. She names over 50 people in the acknowledgements.

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