Saturday, November 13, 2010
There is an almost endless supply of novels about college friends: Brideshead Revisited, The Group, The Secret History, The Line of Beauty, The Emperor's Children and at last count 83,477 others. They all use the same basic formula: desperate people make intense friendships more by virtue environment than choice and are led by the most charismatic of the bunch into making bad decisions and the same basic characters: the snob, the innocent, the addict, the rich one, the charity case, Thelma and Daphne. In order to stand out within that huge pack a novel needs to be at the very least excellent. Enter The Lesson.
The sun of this group of collegiates is the flamboyant and impossibly rich Mark. The satellites are: James, Simon, Emmanuella, Jess and Franny. A lifetime of reading has already taught you that there will of be affairs, changing partners, tested loyalty, betrayal, financial success, financial ruin and tragedy. The author, Naomi Alderman brings nothing new to the plot of The Lesson but then the plotline for this kind of novel was established long before she was born. What Alderman does bring in spades is freshness. From the experience of going from high school graduation and being the master of your universe to being a little fish in a intimidating pond once you get to college to discovering that real life is less than exciting, Alderman makes this all new again.
The Lesson has all the readable delights of a richer than thou coming of age story and the intellectual grab of a documentary. You enjoy it all despite the train wreck you know is coming...or maybe it's because you know it's coming?
P.S. The Lesson is currently available in the U. K. I do not know if a U.S. edition is planned. If you're interested in this author you could try Alderman's excellent Disobedience.