For what feels like years I’ve been told I should read this modern classic. The rave comments on the cover were enough to make me reluctant to read it…and now I can say I have, indeed, read it though I can also safely say it won’t go down as one of my favourite reads.
I like the fact that, from the beginning, we know that a key character ends up murdered. This lends a creeping tension to the pages showing the build-up to this event and yet I couldn’t help but feel slightly non-plussed once I’d finished.
Our narrator is Richard, a young man on scholarship who ends up studying in a rather out-of-the-way college. He becomes infatuated by a rather eclectic group of students. They keep themselves to themselves, studying under a rather odd professor of Classics. In this group they read and converse in Greek, examine little-known texts and seem to bask in their own sense of superiority.
None of the group are likeable. Henry is a bully; Charles and Camilla (yes, really) are twins who also have an incestuous relationship; Francis is a closet homosexual, determined not to let his family know the truth about him, and Bunny (the man who ends up dead) is a boorish character who spends everyone else’s money and finds himself a lot more appealing than he is. I can’t understand why Richard is so keen to ingratiate himself with this group or why, on the numerous occasions he has to walk away from them, he remains entangled in their mess.
My overwhelming sense with this was of a writer trying very hard to be clever, writing about people who like to show their superiority at any opportunity and then crumble once they realise they have to live with the consequences of their actions.
Once we’ve learned why the murder comes about, we then focus on the decline and fall of this once great group. It takes a long time. We know it’s coming, but have to watch every slow and painful moment. As the fall-out becomes more brutal I couldn’t help but think we’d have been spared a lot if they’d been a little less selfish in the beginning.
I know my comments may seem harsh. There was a lot about it that I liked, but just not enough to offset the things that irritated me. Now I just have to ‘fess up to those friends who rave about this and have been encouraging me to read it…