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The Lessons Paperback – 12 May 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (12 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141025964
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141025964
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 63,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Rich, fresh, fascinating. A wonderful novel (Sunday Times on Disobedience)

Sharp, funny and poignant (Hilary Mantel)

Funny, tender and insightful (Maureen Lipman Guardian)

An original, deft and remarkably appealing debut (Daily Mail) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Naomi Alderman was born in London and brought up in the Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon where she still lives. She is a graduate of the UEA Creative Writing Course.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lovely Treez TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 12 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jan on 14 April 2012
Format: Paperback
Many reviews, on this site and in the national press, have noted the similarities between this book and various other well-loved novels, and it is quite true that aspects of this new book by Naomi Alderman are far from original. However I still think this book has its own strong and beguiling story to tell and it is a rewarding read.

The central character, James, has a difficult time when he first arrives in Oxford. His bossy sister, an Oxford graduate herself, has told him exactly what he must do to get the most out of the Oxford experience, but he struggles. Everybody seems to be brighter, richer and more confident than him. His life, although not necessarily his studying, improves when he meets Jess and subsequently gets introduced to the amazing Mark and his friends. None of these are people his sister would approve of, but these are the people who will influence his life for many years to come. Mark is unbelievably wealthy; he is also gay, promiscuous and manipulative. He invites James, Jess and the other members of the group to live rent-free in the large, rambling house he happens to own and the champagne flows freely.

The story follows this group of people as they go through their university years and then move on into careers and adult relationships. The ties begin to weaken as they move further away from the Oxford years, and the other members of the group establish lives that are not controlled by Mark. James, however, finds it more difficult.

I really enjoyed this book. I got involved with the characters and, actually Ms Alderman, I would really like to know what happened to them all in later life. A sequel at some point in the future would be nice!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Veronica Marwood on 1 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
I bought this book primarily because I read a number of reviews (one of which is quoted prominently on the jacket) comparing it to Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History', one of my favourite books - possibly my all-time favourite. Nothing in all the modern fiction I've ever read has matched 'The Secret History', and I was interested to see whether this novel by another talented young female author would live up to the comparison. 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 has been 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, it's obvious Alderman is gifted and this is a great book in its own right.

As for the story, I found it enjoyable and often unpredictable but 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 the author's deft handling of this twist and the realistic narrative voice makes it completely believable.
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