The Lessons: Naomi Alderman

Naomi Alderman, a promising young writer who was lauded with many UK literary prizes for her 2006 debut Disobedience, returns with her second novel The Lessons.

Drawing from rich traditions and myths surrounding life at Oxford University, Alderman weaves an intriguing tale of friendships, failures and all the decadent soirées in between. The tragic hero of the novel, James, is the quintessential outsider and naïf, struggling both with his Physics papers and the culture shock of the musty Oxford environment. Adrift, he meets Jess, a talented violin student, and she tethers him to a hedonistic, rag-tag group of privileged bright young things. In the ultimate share-house fantasy, the group all move into a crumbling Georgian mansion, among wild gardens hidden in the heart of Oxford. Its owner, Mark – raconteur and theology student – is seductive and generous with the fruits of his trust-fund and for a while the group live a charmed dream-like existence until the sparkle surrounding their lives dims; leaving them bereft and broken.

Echoing Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, The Lessons is a beguiling and sensitively written novel.