Monday, 26 April 2010

The Lessons by Naomi Alderman - review

Writing about the university of Oxford is very hard indeed. You are always going to be in the shadow of Evelyn Waugh. The narrative arc of Oxford novels is almost always the same: outsider falls in with glamorous group of rich people and is in some way damaged. This applies to American novels about Ivy League universities, too. And hardly anyone gets it right. I don't think Naomi Alderman, in her new book, The Lessons, has got it right at all. Her novel follows the classic arc (also seen in Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Richard Mason's The Drowning People, etc.)

Many things about it, I had no space for in my review. The novel is very entertaining, but it struck me as false. There is a moment where the students get their results - one of the boys gets a two one, as does one of the girls. Alderman suggests that girls are marked down. But Oxford exams are anonymous! And in any case, the other female members of the group get firsts, whilst the other two boys get a two two and a third. She also has her group moving out of college in their first year - I'm not sure the university authorities would be too happy about that.

Still, here is my review, for the Financial Times: Click HERE

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