Lindsay Heller's Reviews > The Night Climbers

The Night Climbers by Ivo Stourton
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's review
Jan 31, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: 2012, academia, we-really-want-to-be-secret-history

Initially I gave this book four stars, but upon further reflection, I took one of them away. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy this book, because I did, and those three stars are solid. However, afterwards as I lay thinking about this book I realized that I had some major issues, particular with the ending.

'The Night Climbers' is essentially the story of James. Young, and fairly naive, James arrives at Cambridge University imagining his life will be spectacular. He's apparently read a little too much Evelyn Waugh and decides right off that he need to hold back to keep from making the 'wrong sorts' of friends and essentially ensures a semesters worth of alone time. That is until Michael Findlay, a former classmate, climbs through his window. Soon James is initiated into the Night Climbers; a group of extravagant co-eds who drink too much, work too little, have their fingers in many scamming pies, and like to climb the edifices of buildings when the weather is up for it. There's pompous Michael, beautiful Jessica, street-smart Lisa, and Francis, the half African illegitimate son of a Lord who's wild spending forms the heart of the group. But when Francis' behavior causes him to be cut off it changes circumstances so substantially that our characters turn to a crime in order to maintain the lifestyle they've become used to.

First off, I would have liked more Night Climbing. As the activity leads directly into the title of the book I had imagined that this bizarre, but really sort of fascinating, pass time would be what separated our characters from everyone else. And there's a good section dedicated to this practice. But then it tappers off and we never hear about it again. Instead they fill their time with eating outrageously expensive meals and drinking. Lots of drinking.

Then there is the crime itself. A lot of exposition is given to it, a lot of explanation. But I never really felt the sense of danger, of urgency that I have to surmise the characters do. It seems more of a fact of something they did rather than the point of the story. And I can only imagine that it is the point, as it's the bookends that hold the narration together.

Which is another thing; the narration. I wasn't a huge fan. This story seems like it might have been better served by simply having James narrate it in past tense. Adding in the subsequent story, when he and Jessica meet up again many years later when the crime is potentially going to come to light, seemed forced and unnecessary. Primarily the conclusion.

But, now that I've harped over the problems I had with this novel I need to rewind, because I did like it. I might even recommend it to the right person. I thought the characters were richly realized, even if not always likable. I thought the writing was fantastic, Stourton really does know how to string a sentence. And, I thought the circumstances of the plot were really entertaining. I liked these guys, I liked their shenanigans, I felt like I could have sat with them for hours drinking champagne and betting on fixed boxing matches. And that's a very good thing. So yes, there were issues, enough to take away two stars, but overall I thought it was a very noble effort.

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