You gotta love a book about the first decade of the new millennium with a picture of an iPhone with a busted screen on the cover. The cell sits on what appears to be a bar, club, or pub counter. Looking around the Starbucks where I am writing this, all I see are people phubbing, which is a neologism for snubbing the people you are ostensibly with to stare at your PDA (Personal Data Assistant). We are all so bored with reality that we crave–nay–are hopelessly addicted to–such devices.
First time author Ben Masters tells a timeless tale of his Rite of Passage through the Ivy Halls of Oxford, where he was a Literature Major. So, it is a student novel, like Norwegian Wood, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or Catcher in the Rye, but it is also about a writer finding his voice, as well as sorting out the dirty laundry of his messy romances.
It is great fun to read a book wherein Ben masters (been dying to use that pun since I first set eyes on the book) the art of writing an update of this hoary old tale, flashy and trashy on the surface, but whose glittery veneer masks a solid inner substance. The blurb compared this kind of writing to Martin Amis, who I confess, I have not read, but who I intend to add to my summer reading list post haste.
With all the British slang, at times I thought it was in Nadsat, but I could suss out the meaning by the context, most of the time. Wondering about a website called Mugshot, which I googled and couldn’t find but surmise that it was actually Facebook they were talking about. All the mugshot dot com sites I found were actual mugshots.
To summarize, Eliot Lamb is a bright public school student who gets into Oxford. His girlfriend, Lucy, loves him, and he loves her, but she has zero interest or aptitude for Literature. He is drawn to Ella, who belongs with him, if only because of the alliteration of their names (Ella & Eliot) and their shared love of the same books, music, and films. He is drawn to Ella, but so is his best mate, Jack, posh Terrance Terrance, Professor Dylan, and so it seems all the males (and some of the females) of Oxford. And after their fling, he has a lot of ‘splaining to do with Lucy, much of it done via texting.
Along the way there is a lot of student drinking binges and bacchanals, and tutorials on such rakes, scribblers, and libertines as John Wilmot (2nd Earl of Rochester), Anthony Burgess, John Keats, William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Oscar Wilde, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Jean Baudrillard, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Hardy, Mathew Arnold, Allen Ginsberg, John Milton, J. D. Salinger, H. G. Wells, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, E. M. Forster, W. H. Auden, Margaret Atwood, Georg Wilhelm Fredrich Hegel, and Andrew Marvel.
One thing bugged me, though: With all this texting, sexting, and shmexting, why isn’t Ben Masters on Twitter?