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Granta Best is a young British novelist. Naomi Alderman's The Lessons reflects the truth that the lessons life teaches often come too late. Hidden away in an Oxford back street is a crumbling Georgian mansion, unknown to any but the few who possess a key to its unassuming front gate. Its owner is the mercurial, charismatic Mark Winters, whose rackety trust-fund upbringing has left him as troubled and unpredictable as he is wildly promiscuous. Mark gathers around him an impressionable group of students: glamorous Emmanuella, who always has a new boyfriend in tow; Franny and Simon, best friends and occasional lovers; musician Jess, whose calm exterior hides passionate depths. And James, already damaged by Oxford and looking for a group to belong to. For a time they live in a charmed world of learning and parties and love affairs. But university is no grounding for adult life, and when, years later, tragedy strikes they are entirely unprepared. "Sharp, funny and poignant". (Hilary Mantel). "Funny, tender and insightful". (Maureen Lipman, Guardian). Naomi Alderman grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community in northwest London. Her first novel, Disobedience, was published in 10 languages and won the Orange Award for New Writers and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year prize. Like her second novel, The Lessons, it was broadcast as Radio 4's Book at Bedtime. She is a frequent radio broadcaster and she is a regular contributor to several publications including the Guardian and Prospect. She lives in London.
eyes half-closed. ‘I remember,’ he said at last. ‘I loved it.’ ‘You should thank your mamma for bringing this beautiful thing for you all the way from California.’ And he murmured, ‘Thank you, Mamma.’ The following day, Isabella invited a monk for tea. Franny told me once that Mark’s father – who was the source of Mark’s money but was mostly absent from his life – had made a vast donation to his own old college to secure their agreement for Mark to study philosophy and theology, even though
she said, ‘prettiest boy on staircase eight, no doubt about it.’ She pressed her body against me. She smelled faintly of vomit. ‘Lots of girls would like to get to know you, Mr James Stieff. We all talk about you because you are so very …’ She wriggled slightly, a stale odour of sweat and smoke in her hair. ‘Just so very …’ She reached her hand down to my crotch. ‘Are you stiff, Mr Stieff?’ I wasn’t. Not by any means. I pushed her away from me. ‘You should go to bed,’ I said, and I think she
them with a blanket. Simon and Franny claimed they were going to play cards in Simon’s bedroom, although we knew full well what that meant because it was late, and they had been kissing copiously, and Simon’s hand was quite unashamedly stuck down the back of Franny’s jeans. Which left Mark and me on the landing. He said, ‘D’you fancy a bacon sandwich?’ I couldn’t think of anything I wanted more. In the kitchen, Mark cut four thick slices off the loaf and set two each on two plates next to the
continued, ‘Franny came to see me over the weekend, you know. Utterly lashed. Do you think she’s turning into a drunk? Anyway. Yes. She accused me of terrible things, leading Nicola on, lying to her family, taking advantage of Simon. And Manny called me yesterday, wanted to know if it’s all a joke. So I hope you’re not here to give me the same bloody speech, James, because I’m not interested in hearing it again.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m not.’ And it was true; I wasn’t. He frowned at me, then broke
business of bringing Daisy out, beginning to be sleepy in her pyjamas and socks, and a round of kissing and maybe a story or a game, and then Mark would buckle her into the car seat and drive her around to Nicola’s family. They were so close that this back and forth was constant; they drove to each other for meals, to watch television in the evening, and to ferry Daisy between all the places she was loved the best. Mark had his wish: to be at the heart of such a family. And at this point, Mark