The Lessons by John Purcell

John Purcell’s The Lessons is a perfectly adequate novel about the entangled lives of a group of people, with enticing historical details, glamorous locations to set the scenes, and coming-of-age themes thrown in.

Told from various points-of-view and zig-zagging back and forth from the past to the present, the motivations and the deceits of each of the characters is slowly revealed.

This is the kind of novel where I imagine the author had a very complicated collection of post-it notes stuck to their wall, showing the interactions and connections. Of course, the risk of these multiple and tightly entwined plot lines is that in resolving one bit, all must come to a conclusion. Those kinds of conclusions can feel overly ‘neat’.

The weaknesses? The character of Jane, a famous novelist, presented as far older than her years. Her voice was bordering on elderly, not someone simply a little exhausted from their wild times during the swinging sixties London. Additionally, Purcell relied on a (very) minor character to propel the plot – as a result, the scene didn’t feel particularly significant until you realised that it was (and there’s a return to it much later in the book).

On the plus side, Purcell captures the sense of all-consuming first love beautifully. He treats Harry and Daisy’s relationship gently and realistically. I think it can be hard to describe the sentiment and the physical instinct (lust!) of first love, without it seeming either overly mature or saccharine, but he does it. And without spoilers, he also nails the aftermath of first love.

We had a level of trust that only inexperience would allow.

2.5/5 Save for the summer holiday.

I received my copy of The Lessons from the publisher, Harper Collins Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Daisy and Simon holiday in St Tropez. They drink a lot by the pool (probably not a St Tropez Spritz but it looks delicious nonetheless).

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 30): Belfast 14°-21° and Melbourne 1°-13°.

9 responses

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  2. I’m sure perfectly adequate novels have their place! On the beach maybe. As someone who was too young for the swinging sixties – too young to do them, you couldn’t help reading about them – I think Jane, who was there, may well be bordering on elderly. I am myself on a bad day.

    • They absolutely have their place and sometimes they’re exactly what you want/need.

      Yes, might be elderly now but the book was set in the sixties and eighties so Jane’s character was aged 50 in some parts which didn’t quite match what she was saying it doing (and having recently turned 50 I feel I’m a reasonable judge… although perhaps I’m a ‘young’ 50? 😉)

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