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NOUGHTIES by Ben Masters


by Ben Masters

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-95566-1
Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

A young Oxford graduate spends his last night of university drinking and reflecting and drinking and drinking and drinking.

Like a literary version of Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping,” the hero of this debut novel by Oxford-grad Masters gets knocked down—a lot. Eliot Lamb is a 21-year-old English student who is about to get expelled from the idyllic coziness of university. Despite being a textbook example of the British university system, Eliot swears he and his mates are different. “We don’t stand on these benches drunkenly railing the Latin creed at bloated dons and upper-class undergraduates. Nah. We are more likely to chant yob tunes and smack empty pint glasses upside down on our gelled heads,” Masters writes. For this Last Night, Elliot has gathered his tribe in the King’s Arms: There’s Jack, the best mate; Scott, the sensitive rugby player; and the girls, Ella, Abi and Megan, with whom Eliot’s crew shares lurid histories. Masters spikes the drunken ramble from pub to bar to club with flashbacks to Eliot’s university history, not least his heartbroken obsession with former girlfriend Lucy, who receives many the maudlin text message during the narrative. The novel is well-written and propulsive, but there’s a lack of experience that makes the book’s drama seem painfully naïve. “After all that’s happened, I can’t tell if finishing uni is a relief or a tragedy...all the drama; all the heartbreak and confusion. I think we share too much history to lose one another though; we’ve held our thorny secret for so long. But trying to keep it buried has done us no good.” Unfortunately, Elliot’s big “secret” is a worn-out trope found in every freshman creative writing class. The rest of the story, while readable and entertaining, amounts to Elliot’s regular punctuation of “Guzzle, guzzle, chug.”

A green debut that yearns for the caustic wistfulness of Bret Easton Ellis or Nick Hornby, but just misses.