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The Lessons [Hardcover]

Naomi Alderman
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Viking (2010)
  • ASIN: B003RDQHO0
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,354,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Revisiting Brideshead? 12 Jun 2010
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite The Secret History 1 Jun 2010
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Filthy Rich 8 Jun 2011
By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER
An enjoyable but often frustrating book about a middle-class boy who gets led astray by his super-rich, super-troubled best friend at Oxford. On the positive side, Alderman writes extremely entertainingly and creates some likeable and interesting characters (particularly Jess, the violinist and music student who becomes the girlfriend of the narrator, and Franny, the Jewish intellectual student who has complicated relationships with men, and who I'd like to have seen more of). Much of the story is set in Oxford, where the group of friends in the novel are students - unfortunately, though there are some lovely descriptions of Oxford as a place, Alderman tends to caricature the dons, and soon gives up on trying to give a proper picture of student life (the six friends in the novel are so cushioned by the anti-hero's money that they end up living a life distant from the university as such). My main problems with the novel were firstly that I found the super-rich anti-hero Mark so dislikeable (always a problem in a novel if someone is a main character) and the narrator, James, a rather weak and boring character. Had Alderman tried telling the story from several perspectives it might have made a richer and more interesting whole - I'd have liked to hear more from Franny, the mysterious Spanish girl Emmanuella and from Jess. James just wasn't interesting enough as a person to carry the weight of the whole novel. The novel became increasingly claustrophobic, with James and Mark locked in their destructive affair - by the end, I was thoroughly fed up with both of them. All I hope is that James really did escape for good and make something of himself (and develop more of a personality!) at the end of the novel. Certainly worth reading - and I'll probably re-read it - but one was left feeling that this could have been a much more interesting book than it was, and with a feeling of distaste for the extremely rich and powerful.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Brideshead Recalled
In a tale somewhat reminsicent of 'Brideshead Revisited', Naomi Alderman takes us deep into the psyche of an Oxford undergraduate who gets welcomed into the 'in-group' surrounding... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Francesca
3.0 out of 5 stars Okish
This book has some strengths and some weaknesses. I managed to finish it in spite of being bored for a large chunk of the book. Read more
Published 9 months ago by R. J. Lemmon
5.0 out of 5 stars A compulsive read
I found I became so involved with the characters in this novel that I actually missed them when I had finished it. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Iris
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lessons
Excellent book, excellent author, interesting twists and most enjoyable all round. Was a book club read and sure there will be a lot to discuss. A definite book to recommend.
Published 17 months ago by Raymonde
1.0 out of 5 stars What lessons?
It is not often our book group are in agreement. I quote ... "and to a woman we had all hated it. We felt it was lazy, shallow stuff; characters unbelievable and never properly... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Discerning of Dulwich
3.0 out of 5 stars Knowing one's rites!
The rites of passage university novel has always had a certain appeal encompassing, as it invariably does, some interesting group dynamics, sparkling dialogue and escapades that... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Sue Kichenside
4.0 out of 5 stars Top of our city council library group reading list
This is top of our City Council library's Group Reading List. I have read it, but I am not going to make any comment apart from what I've just said and advising group... Read more
Published on 10 July 2012 by Sally Burdyke
4.0 out of 5 stars Really Good Read!
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... Read more
Published on 14 April 2012 by Jan
4.0 out of 5 stars From the middle on, I couldn't put it down
This took a while to get going, and I felt the author wasn't terribly engaged in the first half of this book. Read more
Published on 22 Mar 2012 by roz morris
5.0 out of 5 stars Who needs pity most?
I read "Brideshead" and "The Secret History" so many years ago that my memories of them are too vague for them to have hovered in the background as they have for several Amazon... Read more
Published on 5 Jun 2011 by Ralph Blumenau
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