Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book reviews: The Noughties and Descent Into Hell

Noughties by Ben Masters

Ben Masters' novel is a vivaciously told tale of little consequence. We find our hero at the end of his three-year course of study in English literature at Oxford; he goes out drinking with his friends, where all his encounters bring back memories from his college days and his childhood. Torn between what amounts to a three-year crush on a fellow student and a hometown honey, Eliot Lamb dives into his dreams (involving a baby in a pram), his knowledge of literature (they certainly read a lot more than in an English major in the States, but that's all they read) and his emotions. Just about everything we encounter in this story rings true with a typical college experience, even in the states -- particularly the messed-up relationship with the women in his group and how he leaves behind his mates in his hometown to rise to the challenges of Oxford. But really, Eliot needs to get over himself. I kept wanting to tell him, "You'll get over it. Really. Move on." And their alcohol consumption is truly prodigious; I think I would have passed out (or died) after drinking all they drink, even when I was in college, when four beers would have blitzed me. (British reading challenge).

Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams

A wonderful novel about spiritual battle is dying to emerge from Williams' ethereal prose style. Charles Williams was a member of the Inklings and a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I had not read any of his novels before, and I had this one on my shelf. The novel involves two characters: a woman living with her dying grandmother and a historian. The woman finds a way into a more profound spiritual life by performing in a poetic drama and by interacting with the poet-playwright; the historian finds himself sinking deeper into hell as he becomes isolated in a bizarre fantasy of his own creation. Basically, hell is not other people -- it's the lack of other people. The novel takes place on a hill that was an old battlefield; the spirits of the dead, particularly a worker who committed suicide, populate the landscape. All of which would make for a great novel written by Susan Howatch; but Williams' byzantine prose style gets in the way. (British reading challenge; TBR challenge)


Irene Jennings said...

All the stereotypes are there but portrayed vividly and in the right way, making this book on Oxford student life all the more amusing for its realism. Well-written, poignant and, at times, cringe-worthy, noughties is a highly enjoyable read.
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Marlene Detierro said...

A lively, bittersweet hymn to student days. . . Funny and tender. . . . Noughties is a caustic, street-smart novel for our times.

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