- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Hogarth; First Edition edition (October 9, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307955664
- ISBN-13: 978-0307955661
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 29 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,263,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Noughties: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 9, 2012
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Eliot Lamb is a young man about to face the truth and himself, despite his best efforts to avoid both, in this first novel by a 25-year-old Oxford graduate. Staring down a long night of typical laughter and drinking, Eliot and his fellow Oxford mates must grapple with the questions, fears, and doubts that beset all students on the eve of college graduation as they find themselves about to be thrust into the real world, in which they still have little idea how to navigate. “Our eyes dilated, flooded by harsh reality. Game over.” The somewhat hapless Eliot adds to his own complications through his confused dealings with current potential flame Ella and ex-girlfriend Lucy. Running around town to all the usual joints on this final night of youthful freedom, Eliot hashes through his own history and his potential future while riffing on such modern ambiguities as texting, hooking up, and the decisions, planned or not, that will shape him for years to come. Martin Amis fans will be pleasantly surprised by this debut of an author almost as youthful as his characters. --Julie Trevelyan
Praise from the UK for Noughties
“A lively, bittersweet hymn to student days. . . Funny and tender. . . . Noughties is a caustic, street-smart novel for our times.” —Financial Times
“[Noughties] is intelligent and entertaining and, like early Martin Amis, it is an attempt to say something honest and even modest under a superficially flashy stylistic surface.” —The Sunday Times
“This confident debut will infuriate you, make you laugh, trigger lots of nostalgia and leave you with a knowing smile” —Time Out London
“All-singing, all-dancing style, full of flourishes and wordplay. A genuine comic talent.” —Daily Mail
“Masters is expert on the rhythms and textures of the student experience.” —The Times Literary Supplement
“A faultless prose style. . . . Moments of brilliance. . . . Noughties triumphs.” —Dazed and Confused
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While this is going on, Eliot takes us on a series of flashbacks that fill us in on the previous three years and on his love affair with Lucy, the girl from his home town, and on his relationship with brilliant fellow-student Ella. And we also get some philosophical musings about Eliot's generation which has reached what passes for adulthood during the first decade of the 21st century, hence the title, "The Noughties" (nought being a Britishism for zero).
There are lots of Britishisms in this book. For example, I discovered that the way to describe someone who is physically attractive, what we would have called a "right knockout" many eons ago, is to say that they are "well fit."
Eliot's generation is apparently addicted most of all to texting and alcohol. It is a generation that is all about "performance," he says, about appearance, about preening and being cool. "Even our language is performed; the twenty-first century phrasebook all cliche and slang; empty razzamatazz and Neanderthal droning." Unfortunate is the author that writes the epitaph of his own book. Sex is a cold word for this generation, also all about performance and tallies. Love rarely figures. And the drinking -- never has the phrase "getting wasted" seemed more apt. All that young brainpower wasted.
Eliot comes from a state school but he's a double snob. He looks down on his provincial home town, his mates from school, his parents and even his girlfriend Lucy as insufficiently intelligent, not well-read enough, not intellectual or sophisticated enough to parade before his Oxford friends. This eventually causes their breakup. But he's also an inverted snob who looks down on the posh upper-class privately-educated Oxford types he meets in college as hopelessly effete and full of pretense. Eliot and his friends affect a kind of deliberate down-market mode of speech which is doubly affected for being so fake. They want it both ways -- to be brilliant intellects but also to be working class "men of the people."
Speaking of pretense, we get in the course of the novel a couple of excerpts from Eliot's tutorials in which he discusses Wordsworth and other works of literature. It's hard to know if these are supposed to be serious or satirical -- but they are incredibly pretentious.
The author gives a nod in this book to Kinglsey Amis' Lucky Jim (New York Review Books Classics), arguably the best and funniest campus comedy in the annals of British literature. But this novel owes more to Kingsley's smart, knowing and brainy son Martin who started with a flash of talent and has since subsided into curmudgeonly self-indulgence.
No question, Ben Masters is brainy. We're told in the biographical note that he is 25 years old, studied English at Oxford and is now working on a doctorate at Cambridge. But this is an immature novel by a smart kid who can't resist showing off. In an afterword, the author lists all the authors he has quoted or referred or alluded to in the book; there are 38 ranging from Shakespeare to Gregory Corso, whoever he is, and taking in along the way Hegel, Hume, Joyce, Keats etc etc. We, the readers, realize that embedded within the book is a kind of exam set by the author -- spot the literary reference -- and that we've failed (or at least I failed). But it's not a good sign when an author looks down on his readers.
There's some nice writing in this book and a lot that's just slack and self-indulgent. It's a virtuoso show-off performance by a young writer in love with performance but not necessarily in love with life or his fellow humans. Perhaps in his next novel, Masters will come down to our level and join the human race.
This book is clever, and I don't mean that as a compliment. The author tries too hard to be cute, to be witty, to be smart, to be clever. The end result is an ambitious but muddled book. Ostensibly, it's the telling of the narrator's last night at Oxford, spent with his clique of good friends. However, through flashbacks and reminiscences, their entire three year journey is told. Although there is a plot that unfolds (complete with not-quite-surprising surprises), the narrator gets drunker as the book/evening go on and I got less interested in his story. None of the characters (including the narrator) felt fully fleshed out. Their motivations are ignored in favor of the author's wordplays, many of which are based off of the literature that he himself likely read at Oxford.
I wish the author realized that every generation feels lost upon graduating college. This is nothing new and nothing profound.
As an American, I didn't feel like I was missing anything in translation (if you will) from the Britishisms. What I felt that I was missing was depth of character or a truly compelling story. Do yourself a favor and skip this book. Try instead to read the classics upon which it is based.
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