Ben Master’s debut novel is obnoxious and confusing at first, hard to get into, but well worth pursuing. I got given this book by Penguin (the publishers, not the antarctic inhabiting, flightless and very cute bird) when I went to their publishing open day and it is clearly a book they had picked out especially for third year students and Graduates who are ‘…realizing that adulthood beckons…’ I liked it, a lot. It was honest, laddish and true to student-hood.
In three parts this text tells of a final night out at University, in Oxford to be precise. Eliot Lamb an English Literature student, spews literary resonances all over the pages whilst fighting an internal battle between his home identity and ex girlfriend, Oxford life and lust for a girl he believes he got pregnant, saddled with the guilt of her attempted suicide. A love triangle, between his best friend Jack and the object of their affections, Ella is one of the novels key focuses. Riddled with flash backs and a Lewis Carrol-esque opium fueled haze of the future, Noughties is dramatic and crude; a little naughty if you will.
This is a tale of shoes reluctantly leaving sticky nightclub floors, for a world of sense and sensibility. It’s about drinking far too much and surviving an alcohol fueled frenzy, where tactical chunders are a must. It is a cocktail of emotion about leaving the bubble of University, the nest of knowledge, tutors, essays and the promise of cheap nights out, in order to secure a real job. Entering the harsh, real world where the most exciting things involve saving. For a Car. For a House. For adulthood.
Having recently and rather reluctantly left University myself, I can’t help but relate to Eliot; impregnation and gender aside. We are fed this lie that the future is bright if we undertake degrees and that the life lessons undergraduate study provides will be invaluable. That with firsts and 2.1’s under our belts we’ll be set for life and the dreaded future will be different for us. This is evidently not the case today. Not with this wind and with this tide.
But on the eve of Eliot’s last adventure ‘out out’ in Oxford, with shouts to make this a ‘good night’ and the sigh of ‘Ah mate’, Eliot is inundated with thoughts, memories, alcohol induced flashbacks, reveries and responses. Nothing much really happens in the present, bar a vaguely serious fight here and there and a round or four of shots and a splattering or two of vomit. Yet Ben Masters weaves a believable scenario, a tangible dilemma that most students will have felt; the tug of leaving behind your new and established independent life, friends and haunts, for the life you knew before. And that believe me, is hard.
Noughties is clever and intelligent. It is modern and exposes the bravado of the student, presenting the fragility of reaching maturity in a funny and literary manner. I just wonder if Eliot Lamb’s future feels as bleak as mine. Mind you, if he’s got an Oxford degree his life might just work out the way he’d planned. Thank goodness he isn’t real, I could really do without the extra competition.