Short Notes: The Lessons by Naomi Alderman

One reviewer describes Naomi Alderman’s campus novel The Lessons to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I agree. Both books promise much but deliver little.

She would have just been shattered, the parts of herself which fitted together so neatly now suddenly painful, never again as comfortable as they had been.

Set in Oxford, the novel is about James Stieff, a young man from a not-very-privileged background, who lonely and desolate in his first year, is co-opted in a group centred around the wealthy, charismatic, self-destructive Mark Winters. What follows is the usual vicious cycle of drugs, sex, and booze. While the events in Oxford are still entertaining, the novel loses much of its steam as the group moves apart and the final section between Mark and James is a big let-down.

There was just one point in the novel that intrigued me.


Why does James leave that note for Mark to call up Franny for news of Nicola? Doesn’t he know that Mark would harm himself when he learns about Nicola’s marriage? And now with nobody to save him, Mark would die. I think, he does know and this is the only way he visualises a freedom for both Mark and himself. Mark would be dead and then finally, he, James, would be free of him. What do you think?

I am a coward, I thought, but at least I am free.


First Line: When I returned from San Ceterino late in the afternoon, I found that Mark and his friends had thrown half the food in our kitchen into the swimming pool.

Publishing Details: London: Viking, 2010
First Published: 2010
Pages: 279
Source: CL [823 A27L]
Other books read of the same author: None

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