Review: The Lessons by Naomi Alderman

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What’s It About?

It is December of James’ first year at Oxford University when he meets Mark Winters, a meeting that will change his entire life.  Mark belongs to a different class than James – he is rich and, as a result, knows he has the power to do anything he wishes, to anyone he wants to.  James gets sucked into this world, with new friends and the life of the permanently privilege, in the way that Alice falls down the rabbit hole.  When University finishes, each of the group of friends James has spent the last four years with, go into the world in radically different directions. Until tragedy strikes and James is forced to come to terms with who he has become because of Mark.

My Thoughts:

This is, without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read and already the rest f Naomi Alderman’s books are on my ‘to be read’ list.  The story is told from James’ point of view, and is split into three parts: The Lies; The Trappings; and The Lessons though it is in chronological order with the chapters clearly stating when it is taking place.  While this is unusual for a fictional story, this structure only added to my reading and understanding of the novel.

I have to admit I was unsure what to expect when I picked up ‘The Lessons’ at the library, and wasn’t even sure of my response as I started reading it.  However, the horrifically honest and emotionally wounding storytelling pulled me in and made me want to stay immersed in a world of confusion, lies, love and friendship.  Alderman is a very talented writer, with the ability to not only create beautiful prose, but reach deep into the very essence of living that makes the reader apply the words to their own understanding of their lives.  Take this quote, for example:

No wonder we spend our adult lives feeling we’re simply pretending to know what we’re doing.  After sixteen years spent doing exams, where the lessons we’ve received perfectly fit the challenges we’re faced with, our preparation for the unpredictable events of normal life will always seem and haphazard. pp 49

When I came across it I knew that I had stumbled upon a writer who not only knew how I felt about life, but was able to explain it in a way that would never have occurred to me.

There is nothing that could be described as ‘happy’ about this book, as it is more a reflection of life told through a story of a life that is unlike any you probably will ever meet someone having lived.  Because the fundamentals of life transcend any particular way of living, this is the perfect book to read to give yourself an insight into a world you cannot imagine, while constantly making you look and examine your own opinions about life.  From reading this review you might imagine that this is more a theoretical or philosophic novel, but it is anything but, as at all times it focuses on the characters and their lives, and is therefore a much more personal reading experience than a book on philosophy.

This novel is in no way a quick, easy, happily-ever-after read, so if that’s what you’re looking for, look elsewhere.  Personally I would recommend this book to everyone as I feel that there is no one who won’t benefit from reading ‘The Lessons’, but bear in mind that reading this is an investment and may change your entire outlook (or simply allow you to dwell in a well-told story that will stay with you long after you have finished it).

Overall rating: 5/5

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