#TheTruants @kateweinberg @BloomsburyBooks
Jess Walker, middle child of a middle-class family, has perfected the art of vanishing in plain sight. But when she arrives at a concrete university campus under flat, grey, East Anglian skies, her world flares with colour.
Drawn into a tightly-knit group of rule breakers – led by their maverick teacher, Lorna Clay – Jess begins to experiment with a new version of herself. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken as they share secrets, lovers and finally a tragedy. Soon Jess is thrown up against the question she fears most: what is the true cost of an extraordinary life?
In this seductive coming-of-age debut, Jess Walker, a young and uninitiated first year student, falls in love with two great story-tellers. One, Alec, a journalist in exile, the other, Lorna, a charismatic literature professor. Starting out under the flat grey skies of an East Anglian University campus and ending up on an idyllic Mediterranean island, The Truants is about a group of clever and eccentric misfits who yearn to break the rules. As Jess’ experience of infatuation and betrayal, disappearance and loss gives way to a breathless search for the truth, she finds herself detective in a twisted crime of the heart. Unsettling, challenging, surprisingly funny and beautifully written, The Truants is a compulsively readable literary debut with a twist – and a dead body to boot.
The Truants is about a group of clever and eccentric misfits who yearn to break the rules….
I think it’s more that this is how they see themselves than how it really is. None of them is particularly eccentric (maybe misfits), just a group of students trying a bit too hard to be ‘extraordinary’. But that’s the whole point. Jess is our narrator, looking back from six years in the future. She is an undoubtedly a clever but rather ordinary student who has just started at the University of East Anglia. The middle daughter of middle-class parents she feels her creativity is being stifled and has chosen this particular university in order to follow her idol Lorna Clay – author of a book called The Truants, a book about being ‘extraordinary’. Failing to get into the lectures she wants, she is put into Clay’s talks and discussions on Agatha Christie. Jess is fascinated by the time when Agatha herself disappeared, having discovered her husband’s infidelity.
Actually, by early on I already liked Jess (in spite of her being naïve, ambitious, somewhat pretentious and ultimately foolish – but who wasn’t all these things at 18?), but I didn’t warm so much to Lorna Clay. Eccentric, glamorous and electrifying, students are drawn to her like a moth to a flame. She has her obvious favourites and her conduct around them seems somewhat unprofessional – like something you would have seen in the 1960s. Jess is frequently warned not to trust her and told she is dangerous, but at 18 Jess is attracted to danger.
Jess soon befriends Georgie, daughter of a very wealthy family. She is everything Jess is not. Voluptuous, attractive and fun-loving but unstable and hooked on drugs and alcohol, this is a girl who knows how to party. Then Georgie gets involved with the handsome, hearse-driving Alec, a South African reporter, a few years older and also the object of Jess’s desire. Alec is infinitely more dangerous than lovely Nick who Jess is having a relationship with and it is at this point that things start to spiral out of control.
That’s when it all gets messy and everyone’s lives become entangled and the lies and secrets start to come out. Is this a ménage à quatre or a ménage à cinq?
In fact, the second half of the book was much more exciting than the first, moving at a faster pace and revealing more and more about the characters. Is Jess an unreliable narrator? No, I don’t think so. I think looking back six years later, she simply sees how they were all, including herself – particularly herself – taken in spectacularly by both Lorna and Alec.
I loved this book. It’s beautifully written, the story unfolding gently, teasing the reader with titbits here and there. I would have maybe liked to see Jess’s point of view from more than six years later. I wonder how she would feel about it all when she is say 40 years old. Would she see it as a rather silly time in their lives and laugh at how naïve they were? Probably not as some of the events that took place were sad and tragic. But I think she and Georgie could still be friends. I wonder what you think.
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours
About the author
Kate Weinberg was born and lives in London. She studied English at Oxford and creative writing in East Anglia. She has worked as a slush pile reader, a bookshop assistant, a journalist and a ghost writer. The Truants is her first novel.
PHOTO CREDIT: James Rawlings