There are a wide assortment of books [fictitiously:] purported to be 'The Secret History' (D. Tartt); 'The Night Climbers' is just one in a series. BeThere are a wide assortment of books [fictitiously:] purported to be 'The Secret History' (D. Tartt); 'The Night Climbers' is just one in a series. Before I waste any of your time: It fails. Tremendously. Probably the biggest issue is that Stouton is clearly (or, if not himself, his PR and publishers) trying to ensnare the more erudite and intellectual of contemporary literature readers. By the very nature of who would likely be attracted to the book, Stouton's writing caters more to a quick beach-read type of audience. Not inherently wrong, flawed, or bad; rather, the writing (and the likely intended audience) don't mesh well whatsoever.
I had purchased this with the (clearly incorrect) hopes that the novel would be cultured, academic, and thoughtful. Suffice to say, it accomplished none of the holy trinity. In a vacuum, Ivo Stouton's book is wholly unremarkable: the writing is mediocre (speaking loudly of having taken some creative writing seminars, but lacking any sort of intellectual framework) and peppered with pithy commentary that tries all-too-hard to emit an aura of aloof brilliance. There are a few off-the-cuff cultural references, but mostly I found it to be a bunch of psuedo-intellectual babble, written more as a projection of Stouton's own fantasies than to any sort of literary aspiration.
The book follows a confluence of events surrounding four undergraduate students at Tudor College, Cambridge. James, an entering freshman, tries desperately to emit a sense of self-assured mystery (which backfires: he finds himself alone after a few weeks), with the hopes of gleaning the attention of an intriguing group of four students: Michael, Francis, Jessica, and Lisa. This group of four engages in the eponymous activity - climbing the drainpipes, scaffolding, grotesques, and other elements of the Cambridge architecture (see: "The Night Climbers of Cambridge," a 1953 monographic non-fiction imprint of the same behavior). By chance, James encounters Michael - and then is slowly integrated into the social circle. Francis is fabulously wealthy, and supports all of them in an extravagant lifestyle of cocaine, alcohol, and decadent excursions. Michael soon falls by the wayside (and is unceremoniously eliminated from the story (a la Bunny, from 'The Secret History,' though painfully less interesting), having interfered in an altercation between Francis and his father.
The crux of the story occurs when, per the aforementioned altercation, Francis is no longer the recipient to his father's vast fortunes. The remaining four hatch a scheme, originally proposed by Francis (with whom the other three in the social circle are smitten), to acquire a non-negligibly large sum of money. As expected, this monetary acquisition is far from legal, and creates a maelstrom of unfolding events within the group that reverberate into their adult lives. Ho hum.
My main criticisms? ...Let's start. The plot itself is boring and unpredictable. There has been a large cropping-up of books preoccupied with art, forgery, esoterica, &c in the past decade. Had Stouton written this fifteen years ago, it may have seemed fresh and interesting; it seems like a tired, worn story by 2009. Engagement with the plot was difficult; things don't pick up until some 130 pp into the story. It seems that Stouton's trying to breed curiosity and interest in the reader, but it comes off as unfocused meandering.
The characters are flimsy, and one-dimensional. None of the internal behaviors of the individuals are explored, in any sense, through the progression of the story: feeling any empathy towards Francis, James, Lisa, or Jessica is virtually impossible. Everything is narrated by James: first person narration, as any reader knows, is the most difficult form by which to convey suspense or mystery. Tartt's resounding success with 'The Secret History' is her incredible capacity to drift tantalizing suspense and curiosity while still writing from first-person. At any rate, James does little particular exploration of his philosophies and thoughts. The story is told unenthusiastically and boringly; his internal monologues are stilted and come across as forced. Though the narration switches sporadically between present-day and Cambridge-day, the temporal shifts don't account for how predicably linear the story itself remains.
In all areas, I found this novel to be a disappointment. It's length was the real reason I bore through to the end: I read it over two days, and found it only the most precursory form of entertainment. An academic thriller, this book is not. It doesn't not come well-recommended, regardless of its inescapable comparison to The Secret History: slow progression, boring plot, flat characters, and unimpressive writing. ...more