The Virgins is set in a prestigious American boarding school around 1980.
I think it was the description of it being similar to The Virgin Suicides that made me pick it. I loved TVS, I did my personal study on it in English for my exams.
This felt similar in that it dealt with coming of age type story line, and was told from a spectator's POV, not by the characters who the story was really about.
The narrator was not very likable but he wasn't meant to be. It's funny though as it made his narration unreliable so we although you take at face value what he says happened, you know to take it with a pinch of salt as it's marred with his perspective.
It was a sad tale really. Told in little stories and encounters. Not quite as dream like at TVS but still that air of surrealness about it.
Well written I thought, simple but effective writing style. An easy and enjoyable read.
In "The Virgins" Pamela Erens offers a haunting and unusual take on first love. Set in an elite American boarding school during the 1979-80 academic year, "The Virgins" is narrated by senior Bruce Bennett-Jones, son of a much respected family who simultaneously resents his upbringing and embraces his privilege. He is an unappealing character and, the reader suspects, a somewhat unreliable narrator, as he jealously traces the blossoming and blatant romance between beautiful new girl Aviva Rossner and Seung Jung. The latter is an old schoolmate of Bennett-Jones, once far below him in the pecking order, and our narrator is clearly mystified and miffed to find he has been outclassed by this Korean second son.
Erens' fresh take on this love triangle comes both from her choice of narrator, but also from the contrast she draws between the assumptions made by Bennett-Jones and others about the lasciviousness of Seung and Rossner's relationship, and the reality of what happens behind closed doors. In this case, closed doors also refers to our lovers' psyches, for Erens writes believably of the doubts, fears, and inner conflicts that drive their relationship. This is a cautionary tale and a sharp reminder that we never know what is happening inside another relationship, or indeed another person's head, and of the pressures and insecurities that come into play at that critical time when we believe we are adults, yet often still behave like children.
'The Virgins' is the tale of the school year 1979-1980 at the prestigious Auburn boarding school, as narrated from the perspective of pupil Bruce Bennett-Jones. This novel is interesting in that it is told retrospectively, with some important plot details given away from very early on, but that we have to travel through the full story to unravel exactly what happened in this tale of a tragic love affair and a coming-of-age experience for those attending Auburn during this year. The story, and school-year, begins when our narrator and his friends watch new arrivals step off the bus and we meet Aviva Rossner, an engaging female in the way she exudes a sense of intrigue to boys watching her, with her noticeable slight imperfections. Aviva is a lynch pin of the story, which is somewhat a tale of Bruce's obsession with her and her developing relationship with fellow pupil Seung Jung. What we soon learn is that appearances can be deceptive, and the flourishing love affair, full of sex and danger and lauded by fellow pupils, may at it's heart be an entirely different experience for those on the inside. Bruce recounts important details about the relationship and reveals details he has put together later, by musing on small comments and his own experiences and observations. This tale is told frankly and is very much a teenage boy's account- full of lust, mystery and confusion, as he comes to try and find his own place in the world. As such, the writing is straight forward and there are somewhat graphic accounts of sex and some strong language (such as the 'c-word'), which all seem fitting with the character and prose, but which some readers may wish to be aware of in advance. I'm struggling between 3 and 4 stars for this book. The pacing was fairly good and I did end up enjoying the writing style, but I found this was one that took me a long time to fully engage with and I must say that I found it difficult to really care for the characters. Bruce Bennett- Jones is a fairly unreliable narrator and, whilst he seems to want to repent for some of his own actions within this tale, it doesn't always feel as if he is a character with which it is easy to sympathise. This has been liked to 'The Virgin Suicides' and whilst there are some noticeable parallels, this story doesn't have the dreaminess to it and the genuine sense of a bond between the narrator and the objects of his story. Because of this it just feels a little lacking and flat, rather than one which you feel yourself being drawn into and being intrigued by. The story itself is a good one and I liked the build up to the eventual climax, but I felt no emotional attachment to it or a sense that I took much away from the novel once I had finished it.
The setting for this tragic tale is a US co-ed boarding prep school in year 1979-80. For some this is their graduation year before going off to college. Our narrator ( Bruce) is a senior and together with others is assessing this years intake of pretty girls. He spots one ( Aviva) and rushes to be the knight in shining armour moving her trunk to her room. She flirts with him , he runs a mile but later catches up with her at the boathouse and gets carried away trying to grope her to the extent that she threatens to report him to the college authorities. Cut to later when Bruce is reporting seeing Aviva with an old school colleague of his Seung – a Korean lad now a proctor ( read prefect) at the school .The relationship of Aviva and Seung flourishes somewhat openly – not desirable in a school where everything is subtle and bound by strict school rules. ( In this school the staff are most certainly aware that pupils explore the joys/sorrows of alcohol , drugs and each others bodies , but only interfere if school rules are infringed – such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time which can result in the ultimate sanction of expulsion) To avoid spoilers by playing out the tale in full , I will comment that the characters and their families are tightly characterised – Bruce – with a bullying father trying to control his sons ( two) destinies , Aviva - insecure - Jewish – whose parents are divorcing ( Mother alcoholic) , Seung – a Number two son in a Korean family - who resent the effect of Aviva on their son and his work achievement and prospects.. This is all set against the general teenage angst of the pupils about sex , perpetual virginity , failure to consummate a relationship. The tale – narrated by Bruce - from existing observation and information that he later obtains - of the relationship over the year rattles onto a tragic ( probably inevitable) ending. Were there any villains or merely opportunistic characters? Certainly there were victims some of whom lose control of their destiny. Reminded me of a possible adolescent version of Updike’ “ The Couples” where transgression of the rules results in dire consequences for all. Overall a gripping , somewhat chilling tale in its inevitable tragic ending
In the beginning, it feels like hearing the narration of a movie and seeing something similar to an independent arthouse film, like a Sophia Coppola film or something like The Dreamers, Oslo 31 August, something visceral and non-showy.
The book is told from the perspective of Bruce, a fellow student but in no means close friend to either Seung or Aviva, two young characters exploring the emotional twangs of a want for sex. It is wholly a story about first time sex, which eludes to a somewhat predictable ending; as a story, it's just a bit thin. It's hard to learn anything from it, and nothing rather than the expected happens - it's like an incredibly well written almost teenage fiction.
However, what reclaims this book to be nearly great is it's execution. The writing style is excellent, and is primarily the thing that provoked me to keep reading - it actually doesn't get irksome to read at many points, because the words are so intelligent and eloquent that they are more so what makes the story. There are graphic sexual encounters described with perception; at no point are they cringeworthy or unrealistic. It's fantastically adult, amazingly written, if only the core story didn't let it down.
I'm glad to have read it, for it's great to know that there are writers out there that can write this well, however for me the story was quite uninspiring.
'We sit on the benches and watch the buses unload, Cort, Voss and me.'
The novel starts with the narrator, Bruce Bennett-Jones, observing the new starts at his exclusive New Hampshire boarding school and and spotting beautiful Aviva Rossner, whose bump in her nose and kinky hair have her marked as 'one of those.' It becomes clear that our unreliable narrator is recounting the love story of Aviva and Seung Jung years after it happened and has to 'recreate' much of what happened. It is an interesting device - the narrator is shaping our views on the characters we care about but he is clearly a nasty piece of work and as readers we are constantly questioning how much to trust his depiction and analysis of events.
Erens conjures up a golden couple, steeped in the glamour of having regular sex and the importance of sex to the youth at Autumn Academy is clear - ''We experienced sex as psyche more than body ... as being anointed, saved, transfigured." This is a love story and a tragedy and some of it is brilliantly done. In the end I found it uneven and feel that 3.5 stars is fair.
Erens has written a lively short novel, but one complicated in structure and populated by characters that the author does not pitch to the reader as likeable. The plot concerns a young couple at an elite school in 1979. Aviva is a girl keen to change her personality, and who believes that lowing her virginity is key to being loved completely. Her boyfriend is Seung, a young man dabbling in drugs. This tale of teenage awakening is told largely through the eyes of Bruce, a guy whose observation of all that happens between Aviva and Seung continues because he is in love with Aviva.
The characters are flawed to the extent that they are difficult to warm to, but they are written about with dexterity and colour, lifting the story from difficult to intriguing. It is the skill of the author that makes this such a good read. Irving’s praise is well-placed. It is not the most enchanting tale, but it is a very fine piece of writing.
This novel is set during the academic year of 1979-80, in an elite, East Coast boarding school - Auburn Academy. Our narrator is Bruce Bennett-Jones; something of a voyeur, he enjoys drama from the viewpoint of a director, rather than being on the stage. It is from this slightly distant perspective that we witness events, beginning with the arrival of Aviva Rossner, whom Bruce is instantly attracted to. Both come from wealthy families, but neither is as perfect as they first seem. Bruce's father is a judge, but his sons often resent his controlling behaviour and his mother drinks. Aviva's parents split up and neither she, nor her mother, knows how to cope without the money they have come to expect will be always there.
Before long, Aviva has met up with fellow student Seung Jung. Bruce and Seung were at a previous school together, where Seung had been seen as a slightly nerdy student - sometimes bullied - and where Bruce was far higher in the student pecking order. However, now that Seung is older, he is much more attractive and popular and it soon becomes apparent that he and Aviva are drawn together like moths to a flame. Before long they are a couple - in fact, `the' couple - displaying a public exhibitionism which gets them noticed by students and staff.
Author Pamela Erens recreates the stress of young passion very well in this novel. The difficulty of teenage hormones, too much self awareness and being on the cusp of adulthood and yet, still children, with others very much in control. Seung's Korean parents are concerned that his studies will be affected by his desire for this young girl from a different culture. There are issues with eating disorders, drug use and conflicting emotions. She perfectly captures that stage of life when everything seems so overwhelming and difficult to deal with. As the story continues, you sense that they are heading towards inevitable tragedy and can only, like Bruce, be a witness to unfolding events. This is a disturbing, unsettling read and, as well as being an interesting personal read, would offer a lot for reading groups to discuss.