The Lessons – Naomi Alderman
By the end of this book I was trying to understand why on earth I could relate to the narrator. I have nothing in common with Oxford student, James who falls in with a crowd beyond his own sophistication and wealth. He lives the life of excess with a ready-made circle of friends and finds – by the end of it – that he’s been in love with both his stable, sensible violinist girlfriend Jess and the over-indulging somewhat chaotic Mark.
The first person narrative reminded me of Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway in the reflective tone and sense of awe at the people he is mingling with. The great skill in this novel is definitely the characterisation as, although I don’t know people like this, I totally believed in their existence, their reactions and disappointments.
Beyond the Oxford years, life goes on and when tragedy strikes, the characters respond in the same ways they’ve always responded: moving on, dropping out or sticking hopelessly nearby. The novel spans over 10 years of these characters lives but there’s something timeless about them. The lack of references to modern society is subtle enough that, I imagine, any generation would recognise in this their own awkward shift from university to the ‘real world’.
Every moment feels crucial and convincing as James describes relationships, secrets and his own failings to be quite the person he thought he was.