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Bright Young Things Paperback – September 6, 2012
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An early work by the English author of The End of Mr. Y (2006) available for the first time in the U.S., this enticing novel explores the fate of six aimless twentysomethings who answer an advertisement for a job seeking “Bright Young Things” in 1999. Solitary Anne, prickly Thea, fragile Emily, nerdy Jamie, edgy Bryn, and brilliant Paul wake up the day after their job interview in a house on an island. There’s no cell phone reception and no visible means of escape, but the pantry is full of food. With no idea why they’ve been kidnapped and no way to leave the island, the six begin to get to know each other, starting with surface things, like favorite bands and TV shows, and later delving deeper into their sexual experiences and deepest fears in a revealing game of truth or dare. Just when they’re starting to get comfortable with each other, a startling discovery behind a locked door changes everything. Thomas’ observations about her generation at the turn of the twenty-first century are piercing and thought-provoking. --Kristine Huntley --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"* 'A generation defining masterpiece' - Matt Thome * 'Invigorating, sexy... clever.' - Daily Mail * 'A break for the big time.' - Independent on Sunday * 'Pacy writing... an impressive debut.' - Big Issue"
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Top Customer Reviews
We've been forewarned. The author says in the preface she likes conversation that goes nowhere. She succeeds, but not in a wonderful Marias or Toussaint manner. I found the whole experience to be as though someone created a novel out of the old text game Zork, with 6 explorers who went no farther than the tree and the house.
The book is structured as follows: brief character outlines, they wake up at the house and explore it, a multi-chapter game of truth or dare that goes nowhere (seriously multi-chapter), the discovery of a body, some more random conversation and actions, the end. Do I hear pajama party? Supporting the directionless rambling is the fact that the characters rarely do what any normal person would do. Upon discovering a dead body in the attic of the house, they go downstairs and basically make tea and chat, often for pages about things such as how they played a video game. The body remains upstairs for a couple of days while the dull young bores sleep and make dinner and smoke and ramble on some more about their pasts. I wish I could recommend to readers that all this rose to a form of postmodern wonderment. It is not and the author is not postmodern in her style, which may be described as a sort of tin-ear, flat-footed narrative plodding infrequently spiced with 1990's references.
This work has the hallmarks of beginning authors who didn't plot out any of the book, who had no idea where the story was supposed to progress, who do not understand ways in which dialogue can advance plot, who have no large picture understanding of the work. This is somewhat reinforced when the author states her editor wanted something more and so the (the author) tossed in a dead body. That's a huge plot change that seems to be of little consequence to anyone, including the author. It's confusing to me as she was, so I read, a crime writer before this novel. Maybe the shift in genre overwhelmed her? Maybe the whole idea was too big or she had to meet a deadline. At the end of the book the dull young bores put the dead body into a dinghy and send it off the island, which I hope is a metaphor for the book. Bye bye now. Glad to see you go.
The novel takes its name from a cryptic advertisement that sets the plot in motion. "Bright Young Things wanted for big project. SAE[...]". Part one of the novel introduces the six twenty-somethings who will eventually be invited to interview for the job. The reader is given a quick snapshot of a day in the life of each. Part two finds the applicants regaining consciousness on a deserted island. The young strangers try to figure out what's happened and what threats might lay ahead. They're left assessing their lives, getting acquainted with each another, and deciding how to get off the island. Confusing matters for them is that the island actually provides for most creature comforts. They have a home, food, electricity, medical supplies, books, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. They don't know if they've been kidnapped or if they're being tested. While they certainly feel violated and anxious, their situation's not all that bad.
The narrative primarily consists of the young men and women getting acquainted with each other. They talk about their pasts, their goals, and a lot of (late 90's) pop culture. It could be argued that this dates the book (a concern Thomas addresses in the new preface). While this is inevitably the case on some level, particularly the video game discussions which seem extremely passé, the greater problem is just that this facet of the discussion was a lot less interesting than the more personal aspects. Getting to know the characters through their experiences and fears was a lot more engaging than hearing about what music they liked or what they watched on television. This was the primary shortcoming of the book. More than making up for this, however, are the wonderful, quirky characters. And Thomas certainly knows how to make a game of "Truth or Dare", uh, stimulating.
Shortly into their stay on the island, they make a discovery that may offer some insight into what's happened to them and why. In the end, it's still only speculative but it casts their experience in a new and more harrowing light. Suddenly getting away from the island becomes much more imperative. But how will they do so?
Complaints that the novel doesn't resolve the basic questions about the plot's premise are accurate. The reader is left to draw his own conclusions about these things. However, as is often the case with Thomas' writing, the plot isn't really the novel's raison d'etre. The advertisement and kidnapping are means to an end, not the end itself. The intent was to create vivid and complex characters whose displacement provides a means for contemporary commentary. This mission was completed admirably if not flawlessly. And I would like to note that the ending (for all the questions it leaves) was positively brilliantly done. The concluding scene is sheer genius.
"Bright Young Things" isn't Thomas' best work, but it's very representative of all that's followed. Despite being one of Thomas' most accessible works and probably the quickest read, those unfamiliar with her may best be served starting elsewhere. I'd still encourage everyone to read this novel in time - it's highly entertaining and insightful in its own right.