Read The Lessons by Naomi Alderman Online


Granta Best Young British Novelist Naomi Alderman's The Lessons reflects the truth that the lessons life teaches often come too late.Hidden away in an Oxford back street is a crumbling Georgian mansion, unknown to any but the few who possess a key to its unassuming front gate. Its owner is the mercurial, charismatic Mark Winters, whose rackety trust-fund upbringing has lefGranta Best Young British Novelist Naomi Alderman's The Lessons reflects the truth that the lessons life teaches often come too late.Hidden away in an Oxford back street is a crumbling Georgian mansion, unknown to any but the few who possess a key to its unassuming front gate. Its owner is the mercurial, charismatic Mark Winters, whose rackety trust-fund upbringing has left him as troubled and unpredictable as he is wildly promiscuous.Mark gathers around him an impressionable group of students: glamorous Emmanuella, who always has a new boyfriend in tow; Franny and Simon, best friends and occasional lovers; musician Jess, whose calm exterior hides passionate depths. And James, already damaged by Oxford and looking for a group to belong to.For a time they live in a charmed world of learning and parties and love affairs. But university is no grounding for adult life, and when, years later, tragedy strikes they are entirely unprepared.'Sharp, funny and poignant' Hilary Mantel'Funny, tender and insightful' Maureen Lipman, GuardianNaomi Alderman grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community in northwest London. Her first novel, Disobedience, was published in 10 languages and won the Orange Award for New Writers and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year prize. Like her second novel, The Lessons, it was broadcast as Radio 4's Book at Bedtime. She is a frequent radio broadcaster and she is a regular contributor to several publications including the Guardian and Prospect. She lives in London....

Title : The Lessons
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ISBN : 9780141025964
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 288 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Lessons Reviews

  • karen
    2019-02-13 14:41

    this may be one of those books that is a four star book for me, but maybe not a four star book for everyone else.for starters, it is a combination of secret history and the talented mr. ripley. so if you like those things, get in line. it is about an average man from an average background coming to the attention of a wildly charismatic man and his circle of friends.however, this is a book which simply tells a story. that's bells, no whistles, no uncovering the mysteries of the universe.just a story about people and the things they do and the choices they, why did you like it so much, karen?1) i love secret history. and any time someone writes a book about close-knit friends who all live together in a crumbling mansion and are among the careless wealthy entitled elite with a scholarly bent, but then there are seeeeeecrets, i am already there with my face in the book.2) the atmosphere of this one was more haunting than most of the secret history wannabes. this one's seeeeecrets were more of the emotional, realistic ones, and less of, you know, murrrder. which is refreshing. it becomes less of an escapist treat and one that is a more contemplative experience.3) the descriptions of oxford alone were enough to make me love this one. i dated someone that went there, and i remember hearing the tales of rigo(u)r and beauty and it kind of gives me a little yearn.and while this is in no way unexplored territory, i think she expresses herself well.There is no safety that does not also restrict us. And many needless restrictions feel safe and comfortable. It is so hard to know, at any moment, the distinction between being safe and being caged. It is hard to know when it is better to choose freedom and fear, and when it is simply foolhardy. I have often, I think, too often erred on the side of caution.i mean, it's not a revolutionary observation, but the way she wrote it was lovely; she knows how to express things in a way that is pleasing.I wanted to tell him something about how it was with Jess and me, how I had found that love was a constant cycle of coming together and breaking apart. But I did not want to talk or think about Jess just then. And perhaps I did not at that time have the ability to explain the truth about relationships: that they produce their fruit intermittently, unpredictably. That every relationship has moments where someone says, or thinks, or feels that it might not be worth doing. 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. He had never used string or glue to bind something together again. He had never been forced to learn how to know? i like that. i'm more, just because i think this final sentence is heartbreaking the way she invokes that perfect confidence of children and softly implies how much of that these characters have lost.Daisy grew sturdy and sweet. She learned to say her own name, 'Daidy', and mine. She began to recognize Jess and me, to trust us as she trusted her family. Once, on a walk, she could not quite clamber over a fallen log and held out her little hand to mine with such an expectation of my aid that I felt suddenly heartsick at the charm of her. because that's a lot of what this book is: the realization that "you are unprepared for the emotional challenges of life." in love, in friendship, in academia, in family... and poor beautiful james, drawn into a world to which he has nothing to contribute but so desperately wants to be a part of. again, yearnso, yes, a lovely book, but maybe not for people who need more than just personal resonanace from their reading material.

  • Maciek
    2019-02-08 18:53

    The Lessons, Naomi Alderman's second novel, is reminiscent of Donna Tartt's famous The Secret History - featuring a young and naive narrator from a relatively poor background, who enrolls in at a prestigious university (Tartt's is located in a sleepy Vermont town) where he falls in with a group of quirky, overly privileged and rich young people, and learns their ways by participating in the crazy things they do. The Secret History was not the first novel to do that, but it was undoubtedly the most successful and popular example of such set-up in the late 20-th century fiction.Alderman's narrator is James Stieff (the obvious pun will come up - get it?), a freshman at Oxford and a student of physics. James has a hard time adjusting to the Oxford rigor and feels lonely, misplaced, envious of other more successful students - until he enters the circle of people hovering around the charming Mark Winters, a trust fund baby living the hell out of the bohemian lifestyle in an decaying Georgian mansion. Mark invited James and others to live with him - without worries about the rent or expenses, and just enjoying their life. But there's more behind Mark's wealth and glitter, which might affect James in ways he did not thought possible.While the fact that I did not find most of the characters likable is not in itself a fatal flaw - I could say the same about The Secret History - but I did not find any of them interesting. The mysterious Mark failed to made me care enough to want to know more about him, and I felt that James off as pathetic and whiny. The rest of thee characters resemble sketches more than people. In comparison, Tartt's clueless Richard Papen was a much more engaging narrator, and the drama between Henry and Bunny was a highlight of the novel. Lessons also lack a central focal point such as the murder and its coverup in The Secret History, making the novel wander around aimlessly, not knowing if it wants to center on James, Mark or Oxford, and trying to bring all three together.(view spoiler)[The fact that James was gay jumped at me like a Jack jumps out of a box - especially considering that he somehow turned gay after just one encounter with Mark - considering that he was lusting after one woman and in relationship with another! I am not gay so I have no idea how a gay man discovers that he's gay, but I would expect a little more of internal struggle and attraction to the same sex instead of a magical "gay on" switch. (hide spoiler)]Alderman's novel is an attempt at capturing the lost period of youth spend at college, where one tries to find the meaning of life and parties a lot - but just like that time it comes out without answers and somehow hungover. While she can certainly write and there are nice description passages, its familiar plot offers few surprises and rewards, and while it's a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours it's most likely to be gone and forgotten in a couple of years.

  • charlotte
    2019-02-07 16:02

    tw for self harm, suicide ideations, domestic abuse* you know that trope where there's an unhealthy gay relationship in a literary novel? this book exemplifies that trope. if you look that trope up, you will see a picture of this book. not only is the relationship unhealthy, it's manipulative, and at the end you see it's also abusive. thanks for that.* the two main characters who have this relationship are both bi (i assume, given that it's never said, but they both have relationships with women as well as each other), and both are cheating on their respective others. thanks also for that.* this quote "franny’s teaching something clever at harvard: psychology of consumption. oh, and i think she’s a lesbian now. or bisexual. she’s in a relationship with a neuroscientist woman anyway.". """"she's a lesbian now"""" as if she wasn't before and suddenly changed. fuck you.* it's implied that mark has a mental illness (he has a breakdown before the book starts), but he's also the incredibly manipulative, abusive one (who also excuses his abuse as "you know how i am"), so thanks for the demonisation.* someone compared this to the secret history but if francis and charles had been more than just a sidenote or whatever. maybe if i had read it around the same time as that, i'd have enjoyed it a little more (equally i might not have been so critical while reading), but nowadays i'm not so into characters who have zero redeeming features.* the timeline appears to skip and jump all over the place and it's not always clear when some events are happening in relation to previous events. and as a result the ending seemed very rushed. there's a mention of 18 months after daisy, then suddenly they're talking about jess and mark is being cruel about that to james (another example of the abusiveness, i guess) and then suddenly he's attacking james, and we learn that it's not the first time? which makes it seem like that at least was used as a plot device (we do see obviously the manipulativeness of mark earlier on, and him throwing an ashtray at james' head, both of which foreshadow, but the reveal that the physical abuse has happened multiple times seemed a bit out of the blue).* this being said, the writing was pretty good. it's just the whole plot, with its demonisation of mental illness, and unhealthy gay relationship, and cheating bisexuals, was not worth it (and i'm angry).* final update i swear, but the one good thing was that james got out of the abusive relationship (though with jess - the straight character's - help, maybe iffy?). it did leave it completely open as to what he did next though (i hope he lives happily and contentedly and finds a partner he can be soft with).

  • mathilde maire
    2019-02-02 18:54

    Reminded me of The Secret History and Brideshead Revisited, so yes, of course I loved it.

  • Blair
    2019-02-09 17:38

    As you may already know, The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of my favourite books, possibly my all-time favourite. Nothing in all the modern fiction I've ever read has matched it, so I tend to be interested when reviews compare a new novel to it, as they often do - particularly with novels by relatively young female authors, like this one. There are indeed many similarities between the two, and at the beginning in particular the influence of Tartt's modern classic is so obvious that The Lessons almost feels like an homage. Elite, highly intellectual university setting (in this case Oxford)? Check. Close-knit, mixed-sex (and sexuality) group of friends, at least some of them fabulously wealthy? Check. Somewhat naive young male narrator, less privileged than his peers? Check. The tone and dialogue, too, are remarkably similar. I couldn't help but feel the book was specifically designed to appeal to those who loved The Secret History, but for me at least, it succeeded. As much as it's so clearly influenced by another writer, Alderman is obviously very talented and this is a great book in its own right.As for the story itself, I really enjoyed it but just felt frustrated throughout that there wasn't more of everything. It's so eloquently written and evocative, but lacks the depth and complexity of Tartt's book and so many aspects of the story could have been expanded on. The sudden turnaround in James's feelings towards Mark could be implausible, but it's deftly handled and the realistic narrative voice makes it completely believable. I just wish I could have known more about the other characters, particularly Mark, the mystery of his troubled background and exactly how his relationship with Nicola began and developed. I almost feel like Alderman could write a whole other novel about these characters without running out of material. That said, this is still a very good book and well worth reading if you loved The Secret History - to anyone who enjoyed this, I would also recommend Lucie Whitehouse's The House at Midnight, which is in a similar vein and also excellent.

  • Tooter
    2019-01-30 16:50

    4.5 Stars

  • Felice
    2019-02-21 12:07

    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? 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.

  • Laura
    2019-02-15 13:39

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book at Bedtime:The Lessons is the second novel from Naomi Alderman, winner of the Orange New Writer's Award and Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Set among the dreaming spires of Oxford, it follows the progress of a gilded group of under-graduates drawn together by their dazzling and mercurial fellow student Mark Winters. Fuelled by his trust-fund they live a charmed life of learning and parties and love-affairs. But university is no grounding for real life and none of the friends will be prepared, some years later, when tragedy strikes.The Lessons is a novel about friendship, ambition, betrayal and desire, and the fact that only life can teach the lessons you really need to learn.Naomi Alderman won the Orange New Writers Award for her first novel Disobedience and has subsequently been named as the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. She is a graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford.Rory Kinnear, fresh from playing Angelo at the Almeida and about to play Hamlet at the National Theatre studied at Balliol College, Oxford and reads his first Book at Bedtime.ProducerDi Speirs.

  • Anna Luce Smyth
    2019-02-03 11:50

    ★★✰✰✰ (2 stars)The premise itself was enough to intrigue me. A close-knit group of friends attending Oxford? Yes please. Naomi Alderman's style lends itself well for this: it has a 'polish' that evokes notions of privilege. However, the characters and plot do not convey the good qualities of Alderman's style. Throughout, there is a sort of entitlement which feels hollow: Oxford is not the forefront of the story, and it is the annoying attitude of the characters which render this novel so self-important rather than the 'exclusive' setting. The Lessons lacks the compelling characters of The Secret History, the atmosphere of The Likeness, and the dramatics of If We Were Villains. The focus of the novel isn't as clear-cut as I expected. For such a short novel, I found my interest wavering time and again due to the lack of the story's focus: Oxford seems forgotten soon after the first few intriguing chapters and Mark's house also becomes seemingly forgotten. Alderman doesn't spend enough time maintaining the background of this novel and the characters are not fleshed out enough as to detract from this. I would have been forgiving if I could at least have read about a decent character study, but there was no such thing. This 'group of friends' was composed of interchangeable characters who were so poorly developed that even the author is aware of it and tries to excuse her poor rendition of them by having the narrator say things like 'so and so is still a mystery to me' and 'no one ever understood what she/he was about'. Really? That is a cheap trick. Her characters aren't unknowable as they claim to be, but rather, they simply lack, in all fronts. They are shallows sketches who do not even appear that often in the novel. And I wouldn't have minded as much if at least the two 'main' characters were fully developed. But they weren't. Their relationship was...questionable. We saw no proof or progress, but we are made to believe that the protagonist falls under the influence of this very charismatic character who is anything but interesting. They all read like copies of the cast of *ahem* The Secret History *ahem*. What was the point of it all? Lastly, the 'Italian' factor of this novel is complete nonsense. At least google real Italian names for Pete's sake.

  • Kirsty
    2019-02-01 14:07

    I was sucked into Naomi Alderman's The Lessons from the very first page. It is as intriguing as it is strange, and as strange as it is unsettling. Well written and compelling, I would have happily given this a five-star rating if the ending had been more realistic, and less predictable. Very enjoyable overall, Alderman is an author whose other work I will definitely be looking out for in future.

  • Bettie☯
    2019-02-20 18:40

    (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  • eduarda
    2019-01-22 12:52

    I don't normally bother to write reviews, but considering how little known this book is and how amazing it turned out to be, here I go.He had been the centre, the one who bound us together, because beside him we seemed more similar to each other. Without him, Emmanuella was too rich, and Franny too opiniated, and Simon too shallow. Without him, we were just a scattering of people.I feel like it's important to point out that this book is for a particular crowd of people. Not everyone is going to like this as avidly as I did. The reason for this is simple: there's little plot but an inner monologue (much like TSH's Richard Papen) of someone who's lost then found (more on this later). It's written in first person and the narrator is recalling the story from memory—and he is love blind. He only tells what's important, I think, to redeem himself and his lovers.For this reason, and the gradual decline of the characters, I feel I gotta write this review making parallels alongside Donna Tartt's The Secret History. But let me also point this out: these are very different books. The plot of The Lessons reminded me little of The Secret History. Of course, both of these stories happen in a collegiate ambient, etc, etc, and you can tell that there is at least some inspiration.(Also: it's gaaaayyyyyyyy)Ok! Now what I mean when I say this book's for a very particular crowd (and you'll understand what I'm saying if you've read TSH). To me, The Lessons was written in the same mourning, decaying and surreal atmosphere as the epilogue in The Secret History. See:He turned from me and walked away. I watched his back receding down the long, gleaming hall.— The Secret History's EpilogueI heard the sound of Italian voices from the next carriage — boisterous, confident teenage voices arguing and laughing. This moment, like all moments, would be lost. I closed my eyes, inhaled. And when I breathed out I felt nothing at all.— The Lesson's Chapter 26So when I say only a particular crowd will like this, that's what I mean. All chapters are written this way, like something's just out of your grasp, but then you realize it's not you, it's not you at all, it's the characters. And if you didn't like The Secret History you'll probably not like this book either, and I think if you haven't read The Secret History you might not be prepared for how The Lessons is like—so yes, you might have to be in a particular mindset to really enjoy this book.Here's why: nothing much happens. Like I said, there's always something just out of your reach. The plot... moves on like a life should. Of course, by the time you're on the second half, the entire thing shakes and you're left crying and staring in horror and you're like oh my god oh my god this is the most amazing book I've ever read. Most of it isn't action, it's thought, it's remembrance. If I had to summarize The Lessons' atmosphere in a couple of sentences, I'd say it's the story of someone who loves too much. Who doesn't know who he is without someone to love. And it destroys him, because no one can love him back, really, if he's empty aside from bits and pieces he stole from his lovers. That's both the MC's entire story and ruin. [...] And there are those of us who love unboundedly, giving everything, offering up their whole selves as a sacrifice of love. Nothing short of total love was ever enough for me.But let me be clear: this book was amazing. In a few short sentences, it talks about James, a physicist who's starting his life at an Oxford College, following his successful and bossy sister's steps. Except, when he gets there, he discovers that while he was great surrounded by his average high-school classmates, here every classmate was the same as he, and now he's the average one. And it startles him, and puts him in a depression, and now he has an injured knee and he can't do anything right. That is, until he finds another person to wrap his life around: the girlfriend of the classmate James is the most jealous of. Anyway, through the girlfriend, Emmanuella, he meets another girl, Jess, and Jess introduces him to Mark, different and wild and very, very rich. And as Jess and James' relationship goes on, he becomes crazy fascinated by Mark, as they all are—him and Jess and Franny and Emmanuella and Simon—and all of the sudden they're nothing without each other (I'd say literally nothing. To me, they're empty). Hence, my comparasion to The Secret History's characters decaying during the epilogue.And... that's the plot. His life with Jess. His learning of feelings for another man. His way to go on and not lose either. His love that's too intense, that sparks jealousy, greed, arrogance, selfishness. Which is why this book is so good and yet the story—the plot—is... Well. It's a life. Studying, graduating, getting a job, moving in with your long-term girlfriend, having an affair, seeing tragedy and realizing: Oh my God, I asked for this, why am I true evil? (He's as melodramatic as he sounds.) And Mark's emptiness, and selfishness, and his need to always have, have, have, and when he can't buy what he needs the most, his rage. Arrogance. His blackmailing and sucking of the lives of the people who love him.And if the price of his life has increased over the years, it has grown so slow and subtly that I have scarcely noticed.— The Lesson's Chapter 23But—if you're into that sort of thing, the objective, slow yet engaging and incredible narrative (I mean... I read TSH in 3 months, and that's my favorite book. I read this in 5 days. So it's not slow in the way that drags.), this is a must read. Also, one thing I'd like to take notice of is, I couldn't have read this book at a better moment than I did. This book's about moving away from childhood, adolescence and college life. About growing into adulthood but not in that oh-my-god-this-again kind of way.[...] At last, I was not to be thrown away or beckoned with a gesture. I had wanted this; there was a triumph to it. My love had never been enough without his pain.5/5

  • Jeffrey
    2019-02-04 18:53

    Christ Stopped at San CeretinoI won’t be the first reviewer of The Lessons by Naomi Alderman to point out its two unequal parts; the first a conventional coming of age narrative ensconced in all the adornment of an elite university, and the second a more complex story that explores larger questions of pain, self-loathing, and dependency. Read as a whole, however, the book falls disappointingly short of being a well constructed piece of fiction.By means of belabored allusion, the antagonist and central character of the novel, Mark Winters, is portrayed as a Christ-like figure. Whether shedding blood from symbolic extremities, being admonished to take on disciples, or making the most secret of longings possible, Mark is the embodiment of the supernatural mortal. His wealth is so fabulous, and “the details of his life are so dazzling that most people cannot see past them. His false exterior is so grand that no one can quite understand…that he is real, there, behind the trappings” says James, the novel’s narrator and Mark’s principal apostle.Though Mark’s reality may be open to question, the effect he has on his biblically named followers is profoundly consequential. Their belief in his ability to provide what each lacks, in a sense, to perfect them, references the role of belief in the lives of the most faithful. It’s not lost on Alderman, however, that pain and belief often come as a package deal and, as such, it is pain that defines the splintered edges of the book. The most overwrought metaphor, that of Mark as Christ-like figure, however, is disappointingly never drawn to a meaningful conclusion. Absent that closing of the loop, the indictment of Christian belief in an all-redeeming god-man remains, at best, rather tepid. If Mark is disturbing for the cult-like following that he commands, it is James, the novel’s most tragic character who will leave the reader in the greatest state of unease. As made clear from the outset, James’ talents are real, even pronounced. He is smart, attractive, and invites the attention of both sexes. Yet an early mishap coupled with a well portrayed immaturity all too typical of his sheltered upbringing makes him easy pray for Mark’s machinations. James’ transformation throughout the course of the novel is depressingly extreme and one would be forgiven for not recognizing one iteration of his characterization from the next. Yet, still the reader leaves behind a remarkably unsympathetic protagonist.Alderman, seemingly aware of the nullifying tone of her novel, includes at least one other character worthy of greater, if not quite sympathetic, attention. Franny, the lone Jewish character in the novel and likely a thinly disguised self-portrait of Alderman herself, appears throughout most of the novel as little different from Mark’s other followers. But when Alderman sets about tying loose ends, Franny’s history is crucial to the believability of what is perhaps the novel’s most unexpected turn. Yet it is never entirely clear why Franny was the vehicle chosen to aide in this endeavor. Egotism? Most readers, undoubtedly, will remember the character more for an entirely out of context and strange, even reactionary scene of violence that heavy-handedly alludes to Christian violence against Jews. Absent larger allegorical implications, which are decidedly lacking, this is perhaps the clumsiest of scenes written into the narrative.Still, as the novel draws to a close in the fictional southern Italian village of San Ceretino, it is James alone who bears the heaviest burden of Mark’s cruel, self-loathing, and enigmatic personality. Moral isolation, borne of geographical remove, inspired the telling title of Carlo Levi’s 1945 memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli. It seems fitting, then, that Alderman’s novel concludes in the fictional Italian village of San Ceretino, presumably south of Eboli. The Lessons is steeped in moral isolation. In fact, the paucity of ethical behavior is what leads the two central and deeply flawed characters into exile in the first place. And while escape from exile may be possible, it’s clear that the scars of memory will never disappear, leaving the reader with the stultifying story of wasted life.As is my preference for being introduced to any much heralded young writer, I try to begin not by reading their most noteworthy or lauded work, but perhaps their follow-on effort or at least something less hyped. For all the praise that Naomi Alderman received for Disobedience, this book hardly lives up to the potential that one might have hoped for. Its most salient features are the dark and decaying ambience of generational wealth, a fleetingly libertine existence depressed by a neo-gothic darkness and a profound, all-permeating staleness. Without an evident plot arc until two-thirds of the way through the book, any reader used to being propelled forward by the point of light at the end of the tunnel will only meet with disappointment. Even the asides and other references to more philosophical ideas within the text, musings on such things as wealth and value, the fluidity of sexuality, and the means by which spiritual cleansing allows one to continue to flaunt societal conventions are often contrived and contextually not well situated. © Jeffrey L. Otto December 5, 2011

  • Anna
    2019-01-29 16:53

    Three reasons I was eager to read 'The Lessons': 1. Alderman’s The Power was one of my favourite books of 2016, 2. Someone on tumblr enthusiastically recommended it, 3. It’s always tempting to read novels about the Oxbridge Experience and compare them to my own Oxbridge Experience, especially if they’re not murder mysteries. On the first front, I found ‘The Lessons’ much less sharp and much more conventional. On the third front it didn’t quite satisfy either. There were moments of insight, yet the insular group of friends that the protagonist spends all his time with just weren’t that interesting. All the friends I made as a Cambridge undergraduate were fascinating! I couldn’t believe they would want to be friends with me, but apparently we were all odd enough to have convinced the interviewers that we would survive in the peculiar Oxbridge environment. I did encounter boring people, of course, but they were generally rowing enthusiasts. Alderman really captures that oppressive insular sense that your exam results determine your entire worth as a person, though. Perhaps if the book has dwelt entirely, or even mostly, on the university years of the characters, it might have appealed more to me. As it was, once they all graduated it seemed to become terribly predictable, in particular the antics of Mark, self-destructive rich guy extraordinaire. (As an aside, Oxbridge novels seem dangerously fond of equating great wealth with charisma. Those traits rarely coincide in reality. Or perhaps it’s me - I find all of these supposedly charming rich characters obnoxious. They strike me as a strong argument for reforming inheritance taxes.) In part this was due to the prologue, which frames the vast majority of the text as a reminisce. I felt moved enough to offer James, the narrator, advice that he unfortunately never took: “Get out!”, “This situation is terrible, move on”, “How is this a good life choice?” etc. Perhaps it all felt inevitable also because there were a lot of plot and character similarities with Brideshead Revisited. That set Alderman up to fail, given that Brideshead is a classic for a reason. Waugh had an incredible, visceral insight into British social class, thanks to his intense snobbery. (More recently, The Patrick Melrose Novels performed a magnificent dissection of the British upper class.) Equally, comparisons with The Secret History on the back cover do ‘The Lessons’ no favours, as Tartt is a more stirring, gloriously pretentious writer. Out of the shadow of those two wonderful novels, this one does have some insightful and lovely moments, plus it actually acknowledged bisexuality. Yet I remain rather disappointed as it failed to surprise or challenge me and I know from The Power that Alderman can do so much better.

  • Teresa
    2019-02-21 13:54

    I must confess to having a penchant for this "Brideshead" style of novel set in an esteemed academic environment with a group of quirky, privileged characters who adopt and mould a less wealthy, more vulnerable individual. "Brideshead Revisited" and "The Secret History" rank among my favourite novels and I guess it is comforting, as a reader, to quickly recognise the setting/plot and to simply relax and enjoy the ride!None of characters have particularly attractive personalities and they do, to a certain extent, fall into stereotypes. Our narrator, James Stieff, a middle class undergraduate at Oxford, finds himself struggling when plunged into the big pond of academic excellence. He is at his lowest point emotionally when Jess, a gifted music student introduces him to the glittering world of Mark Winters and his chosen circle. Mark, a flamboyant homosexual, is obscenely rich but his charisma veils emotional instability. Other members of this cult like group are Franny, a Jewish intellectual, Simon, the would-be politician and Emmanuella, the exotic Spanish student. Poor ineffectual James doesn't stand a chance amongst these uber-confident figures and he is swiftly sucked into their hedonistic lifestyle. The first half of the novel is mostly concerned with the minutiae of life at Oxford and the author vividly portrays this elitist, ethereal world but there is a sudden change of mood in the second half when our dashing group are torn asunder and have to navigate their way in the real world - they certainly lose some of their sparkle when they are confronted with real life although you do have the impression that poor James can hold his own. However....things don't exactly go to plan and you quickly realise that these "firm" friends don't really know each other at all. As we approach the denouement, we have a dreadful sense of foreboding as Mark's behaviour becomes more and more mercurial.So, what are the lessons to be drawn from this life of ours? Our narrator James undergoes some sort of inner metamorphosis moving from the negative toned "It is ridiculous to think we can learn anything from so arbitrary an experience as life" to a perhaps more hopeful stance "That man in the mirror is me, I thought. For good or ill, that's me."The similarities between this novel and "The Secret History", "Brideshead Revisited" and perhaps Lucie Whitehouse's "The House at Midnight" are probably a mixed blessing. If you don't like reading about the over-privileged, then this is unlikely to convert you. Doubtless some readers will be sorely tempted to compare and contrast recurring themes/characters but by doing so, you will miss out on a real gem of a story. This isn't a poor imitation - it lives and breathes with its own singular life.

  • Tara
    2019-02-19 15:01

    James is a middling physicist, who sinks into depression and failure after he badly injures his knee in his first term at Oxford. He subsequently meets a set of friends whom he considers exotic and make him feel like he belongs somewhere for a time. So begins 'The Lessons' in fairly typical Oxford-novel fashion.I wasn't at all sure I was going to like this book for a much of the time I spent reading it. If you've read 'The Secret History', there are parallels. It was so disappointing to read about yet another damaged student who gets swept up by glamorous friends and led astray the minute he gets within a mile of Carfax. Gloucester College, where the protagonist is an undergraduate, is a very lightly disguised version of Lincoln College, where the author was herself a student. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does make me wish that at some point someone will write an Oxford novel that has its characters play a role in and embrace college life - as Lincolnites in particular tend to do, which would actually be far more interesting and original than treading the standard path of disaffection and alienation. Having said that, the details about life as an Oxford undergraduate are pleasingly authentic - I found myself warming to 'The Lessons' because of this.James himself is often pathetic and wearisome. His new friend, Mark, unimaginably rich and periodically a nervous wreck, is a much more interesting prospect. Mark is (mostly) gay, Catholic and constantly besieged by the anxieties of his despotic mother. He enslaves James, as we might expect, but Alderman still manages to make him unpredictable.I think Alderman is trying to say something about Oxford here. It chews you up and spits you out. You're not quite right for years afterward. She could have done it better, but 'The Lessons' isn't without its charms, nonetheless.

  • Kyle
    2019-01-27 13:51

    Actual rating: 2.5Well, the writing was a plus. It ebbed and flowed with moments of great prose, but it did, too, have entire sections that droned on and on and bore me away from the page. I thought at once I would enjoy this story because it is so likened to The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It does, I would say, hold a certain resemblance to the general plot of Tartt's novel: young, posh twenty-somethings at a prestigious school who fall into an exclusive familial clique; isolating themselves against the world. But it quickly devolved into something else. Something less fascinating than the depths Tartt plumbed. It became so goddamn boring and... ordinary!This is mainly by fault of the characters themselves. They held no interest to me, and were all completely lacking any fascinating or endearing aspects. Our narrator, James, is so uniquely pathetic, bland, and whiny throughout, that I wished an early end to the book itself, if only to save me from further pitiful actions in James' part.Mark, too, I absolutely loathed.Again, the saving grace is it had its moments. The writing was very nice, and I guess the end (view spoiler)[with James' 'beyond-fashionably-late' epiphany (hide spoiler)] kept it from being a complete disaster.

  • Alex
    2019-01-22 17:38

    Pretty much all I've ever wanted from a book was a version of The Secret History set in Oxford. The Lessons doesn't quite get there – in their own review, a friend called it closer to Brideshead Revisited, which seems apt – but the major players are compelling, and the depiction of the mental health issues and more general anxieties that seem to come with life at Oxford (inferiority complexes, fears of missing out on a quintessential "Oxford experience," and what it's like to battle depression during term time and struggle with perpetual guilt and fear while playing catchup during the "vac" as a result) is almost too close to home. I get the sense that some part of it is likely to linger with most readers, whether it's relationship issues (familial, platonic or romantic) or post-grad fears or the vivid imagery itself that finally resonates. I had fever dreams of dilapidated mansions the night I finished it.

  • Melissa
    2019-02-09 19:07

    This book is achingly like reading The Likeness again, full of the creepily, wonderfully, close relationships of Oxford students who live in a big, decrepit house together. All that's missing is the police investigation. Since I kind of wish my default reading mode was to always be reading The Likeness again, it's safe to assume that I loved that about this book. It's only getting three stars, however, because the end is such a disappointment. While it could be that I didn't care for it because I never wanted the book to end, because I wanted to wallow in the story for at least another day or two, it may also be that it just wasn't any good. I need more!

  • Rachel Pollock
    2019-02-15 16:53

    I absolutely loved this book. It turned out to be what I wished The Secret History had been, upon rereading it 20 years after the first time I read it. I loved that book to distraction when I first read it. The way life has changed me in the interim, unfolded such that this book is now what that book was then.

  • Johanne
    2019-02-07 16:07

    I really enjoyed this. It seemed to start as a sub-Brideshead glittering things but subtly morphed into a meditation on life, love and our capacity for self destruction. It is entirely concerned with the activities of a privileged group but for all that it is an engaging read. Alderman is a good writer and she manages to make important points without falling into the bubble gum philosophy trap. I confess I can't quite explain why I haven't given it five stars, I read it in two sittings, sucked in completely and I have no idea what I'd change about it...4.5 stars??

  • Ron
    2019-02-04 12:02

    Sort of Brideshead Revisited, but without the teddy bear.

  • Ellen
    2019-01-22 20:03

    I was going to give this three stars, but after writing out this review I've come to realise that this deserves 2.5 stars at best.Somehow I got the impression that this was going to be some sort of a mystery novel (maybe because of all of the reviews comparing this to The Secret History, which I haven't actually read yet), and when I had listened to over two hours of the audiobook, I was a bit puzzled at the lack of mysterious events happening. After looking it up on Goodreads, I found out that this was in fact not shelved as "Mystery", and so my expectations were thus shifted. However, despite this fact, I unfortunately have to categorize this story as a bit boring. Sure, there are things happening, but to me they mostly feel unimportant and just not that compelling. In a sense, it all feels a bit random and illogical. Furthermore, I didn't really like any of the characters. Or maybe I shouldn't say "didn't like", but rather that I didn't really care for any of the characters. Some of them, like Jess and Emmanuella, appear to be mostly good people, while others, and of them most notably Mark, are mostly utterly terrible. However, none of them really managed to inspire any serious emotions in me as a reader/listener. Don't get me wrong, I usually enjoy reading about terrible people and the awful things they do to each other, but for some reason this just didn't feel that satisfactory. Despite my criticisms, I think this was really well-written, and the descriptions of the setting was quite immersive. Even if this novel didn't impress me that much, I am still compelled to read some of Naomi Alderman's other work. Lastly, and this might be a somewhat rude comment, but as mentioned I listened to this on audiobook, and while the narrator did have a very pleasant voice, he kept audibly drawing his breath after every other sentence, and I found myself getting a bit annoyed by it. To be fair, this is probably something most people do while speaking, but I think it's just one of those things that is difficult to un-notice when you start noticing it.

  • Flapper72
    2019-01-22 11:55

    This is my second Alderman book and I enjoyed it as much as the first although felt it was a bit of a 'slow burner'. The story is told by James. Not sure why but it too me a couple of chapters to realise that it was a male telling the story. Anyway, James is a student at Oxford, and doesn't really quite fit in. He's on a physics cause but he's not a high flyer, is finding work difficult and withdrawing from life. He's then spotted by Jess whom he thinks just wants to befriend him - they end up as partners. Jess then takes James to a party at his friend's house; Mark. A ramshackle house, owned by Mark who is extremely privileged, has inordinate amounts of money and pays for a group of students, including James and Jess to live with him in his house and enjoy a champagne lifestyle. Obviously there are parties, sex, revelations about Mark's life and then we move on to life after their fun three years in Oxford. It took me a few chapters to get to know the characters and start enjoying the book. I liked Mark, then I despised him, then I had sympathy for him and think that, by the end of the book, I abhorred him and the carnage that seemed to follow him through his life. It was an amazing book. Completely unpredictable in how various characters' lives developed. I most definitely didn't go to Oxford but I kind of 'got' the student house living and how things are never going to be the same again. Thank goodness my life was more boring that these house mates though!

  • nicky
    2019-02-17 15:55

    Really, really want to re-read The Secret History right now...Yet I do not wish to compare The Lessons to The Secret History. There are similarities but only in terms of the atmospheric-ness. The Lessons is not a carbon copy of Donna Tartts novel - not at all. It has its own magic to it, its own darkness, its own suffocating and desperate quality that really starts to pick up in the second half of the book and I very much enjoyed it. I could not be more glad to have found The Secret History through bookstagram this year, as I feel like the qualities this novel possesses are exactly what i've always been looking for in books. And I am so glad that there are similar stories ! So for anyone who did enjoy The Secret History, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Lessons !

  • Kinga
    2019-01-25 12:47

    This was not my favourite Naomi Alderman book. It was, in places, a bit slow but did remind me of A Secret History.

  • Christine
    2019-02-02 17:06

    Rory Kinnear begins reading the Orange New Writer's Award Winner, Naomi Alderman's, second novel, 'The Lessons', a story of ambition, friendship, betrayal and desire. Today: James goes up to Oxford but finds her beauty only skin-deep.Reader Rory KinnearAbridger Sally MarmionProducer Di SpeirsThe Lessons is the second novel from Naomi Alderman, winner of the Orange New Writer's Award and Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Set among the dreaming spires of Oxford, it follows the progress of a gilded group of under-graduates drawn together by their dazzling and mercurial fellow student Mark Winters. Fuelled by his trust-fund they live a charmed life of learning and parties and love-affairs. But university is no grounding for real life and none of the friends will be prepared, some years later, when tragedy strikes.The Lessons is a novel about friendship, ambition, betrayal and desire, and the fact that only life can teach the lessons you really need to learn.Naomi Alderman won the Orange New Writers Award for her first novel Disobedience and has subsequently been named as the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. She is a graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford.Rory Kinnear, fresh from playing Angelo at the Almeida and about to play Hamlet at the National Theatre studied at Balliol College, Oxford and reads his first Book at Bedtime.ProducerDi Speirs.

  • Liz
    2019-02-05 19:57

    Isolated and outclassed (in every sense) at Oxford, James is taken in by a group of friends revolving around the mercurial, rich and very troubled Mark. James is drawn closer and closer in Mark's orbit until, inevitably, tragedy strikes.This twist on Brideshead Revisited and The Secret History will not be to everyone's tastes, but I loved Alderman's fresh take on the themes. Her Oxford felt real and beautiful (and well-grounded in the modern era), but the book made me grateful there was never any question of me studying there.At one point early on I became very uncomfortable while reading, and realised it was because, given the archetypal nature of the characters, I was braced for James to be unfaithful to a particular person (hopefully keeping that vague enough to avoid spoilers). In the end, I felt Alderman navigated that particular maze perfectly, avoiding the obvious choices but embroiling James in even more complicated relationships.Another very good book I was strongly reminded of was Lev Grossman's The Magicians. Both deal in protagonists who have no sense of their own self (worth), and in the power of humans to hurt one another. Alderman's book differs in the sense that the novel remains to some extent an ensemble novel, which leaves certain questions open at the end. I don't have a problem with that - I like that I am still thinking about certain situations, and about whether the characters could have done anything differently.

  • The Idle Woman
    2019-01-29 20:07

    This was my first encounter with Naomi Alderman's writing and it turned out to be very appealing: the spiritual love-child of The Secret History and Brideshead Revisited, which are two of my favourite novels. It follows the isolated, agnostic James who arrives as an undergraduate in Oxford, only to find that a running accident in his first term brings him into the orbit of the beautiful, fabulously rich and self-consciously dissolute Mark Winters. This troubled but captivating young man will come to influence not only James's time at Oxford but his life far beyond that. Conjuring up the intense feel of student life and undergraduate friendships, the book never quite shakes off the shadow of Brideshead (with which it shares a great deal), but nevertheless it's elegant, sensitive and thoroughly nostalgic.For a more extensive review, please see my blog:

  • Teresa
    2019-02-19 13:59

    3.9/5 When I was reading this I had the impression of being in a modern version of Brideshead Revisited. James, a middle-class young man, is a new student at Oxford who doesn't share his classmate's excitement nor ambition to excel. His life is rather depressing until he meets Mark (another student who happens to be a billionaire) and his gang. Delicately written, this novel explores with great sensibility and insight different types of love, the challenges of adult life, and coming to terms with oneself.