The Night Climbers Paperback – 11 Sep 2008
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"Lapped up The Secret History? Then this one's for you . . . Stourton can really write . . . his next move will certainly be worth watching." (Independent on Sunday)
"An amazingly accomplished debut . . . the writing is elegant, the story decadent." (Observer)
"I love this book. So exhilarating, authentic and vivid. It made me want to become a Cambridge student all over again." (Nicholas Coleridge)
"Tightly sprung and compulsively readable" (Literary Review)
"Stourton is a storyteller with perfect poise" (Spectator)
'Lapped up The Secret History? Then this one's for you...his next move will certainly be worth watching.'
'Stourton is a name to watch.'
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It is interesting that the `blurb' on the back of the book said that James falls in love with Jessica and finds himself in a `fatal love triangle' with the group's leader, Francis. This wasn't the case at all. All the way through James appoints himself as protector of Francis, wanting him all to himself, describing his body and face in minute detail and trying to distance Jessica so that he can have Francis to himself. If anyone, he was in love with Francis not Jessica! Rarely have I read a book which is so unintentionally homo-erotic.
I don't want to completely trash this novel because there were good things about it, but there was also an awful lot wrong; the dialogue was totally unrealistic; I was expecting more about night-climbing than the 10 or so pages that I got; and the influence of `The Secret History' is so apparent that it is difficult to read this book without seeing it as a pale comparison. At times the writing was good, if old-fashioned, so I would be inclined to skip over this one and buy the book that Stourton will write in about five years time.
The Night Climbers is well-paced and well-written, polished but without wasteful pauses. Though it also takes the reader through London and Monaco, as a Cambridge-based novel it makes a good job of describing the city and university. The night-climbing side plot, indeed, is supposedly not an invention, but based on a real if somewhat obscure tradition. I even went to check whether the leap from the Senate House's roof to Caius college was possible, and the scene in the book is realistic in the main, and the distance between the two buildings correctly given. If Stourton's debut novel is about anything beyond entertaining its reader, furthermore, it is surely about transgression. A perceptive work, it does a good job of making one reflect on the meaning and cost of transgressing social and moral norms, in more than one scene or way.
Finally, this has been compared to Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Indeed, both are college-set and both have a narrator scrambling to belong to a tightly-knit and alluring but amoral club of older students. The resemblances end here, however, and I found The Night Climbers the stronger book of the two. While the incident at the core The Secret History is, I felt, somewhat contrived, Stourton's book has no such handicap: it is consistent, coherent, and inherently readable until the end.
Surprisingly emotionally-mature since it was written by a 25-year old, the novel dissects the spurious need for material possessions, while at the same time glamorising and valorising that same need. Stourton taps into a mythic `golden world' which is itself partially created through books such as Brideshead, the Secret History and The Great Gatsby (which is name-checked here) and then turns it on its head. This is a world, ostensibly, where teenage undergraduates `need' to have hand-made shoes, bespoke tailoring and Fortnum and Mason picnic hampers, and when these props are suddenly removed, their world collapses.
When so much in this novel is good, it's a real shame that it didn't have a better editor who could have reined back the author's overwhelming propensity for over-writing hideously: he can barely write a sentence without an overblown simile or metaphor. Some of them work, but the vast majority do not: on one single page alone, for example, we have our hero looking `like a rakish model emerging from an epic party', his undone bow-tie like `misplaced laurels', the narrator peering into a box like he is peeking though `a lit window at a woman changing' and the money in the box `like a pile of autumn leaves'...
If you can get beyond this surface flashiness which distracts and increasingly irritates, there is actually a good story here. Francis, in particular, is a wonderful creation albeit a reincarnation of beautiful, doomed youth such as Sebastian Flyte, living hard and fast but ultimately consumed by his own life. So huge potential let down by technical style, but definitely a writer worth watching.
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I'm sure the writer was very young when he wrote this debut and anyone who's ever been...Read more