The Lessons by Naomi Alderman

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Frequently compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, which I loved and although it seems any old book set in a university, about a group of misfit students qualifies as a read-alike for TSH and believe me, often they are not. I’ll give this one a free pass though.

James has barely any friends at his new college, but eventually strikes up a relationship with a girl on his campus and is quickly pulled into her friendship group. All of the group’s members are a bit screwed up, and probably wouldn’t be friends at all if not for the groups ‘leader’, the disgustingly wealthy, incredibly charming and all time winner of The Most Screwed Up award, who lets them all live in his fancy house and hop in and out of his bed at their leisure. Unlike many other books of this kind though, Alderman lets us see this group leave university and grow up, which was unusual, I feel. Normally there’s some crisis and the drama peaks and then they graduate and that’s that, everybody forever changed by their experience but no longer living it. But in The Lessons we see how the character’s pasts lurk after them into adulthood, and how their miserable shadows, when not exorcised can prevent any hope of a future happiness.

If it wasn’t for the second half of this novel, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much as I did. There wasn’t much interesting about the beginning, save perhaps for Little Gatsby and his peculiar relationship with his mother. But the whole way through the second half I found myself continuously surprised and shocked by the turns in events. It’s a quick and easy read.

4/5

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