I have just finished the third of the six books that launched the Macmillan New Writing imprint in April.
North by Brian Martin is a deliciously disturbing story set in Oxford, with morality and sex under the spotlight. North is the name of the central character, a suave lad in his late teens who manipulates his way into a relationship with two of his teachers: a married Christian man and a young woman.
What makes this novel work for me is the fact that it's narrated by another member of the staff who gets to know North. We are never quite sure about the narration, whether we're being told everything, whether everything is as it seems. The story cuts along at a crisp pace, with no padding or extra detail that would otherwise hold things up. The darkness of the subject matter is never too much that you withdraw from the story.
There are some weaknesses, but they aren't enough to knock the book off its perch. We are told, for example, too many times how different and grown-up North is, that he's not like any ordinary teen. We get the message loud and clear and sometimes it was irritating to have this fact repeated. The dialogue was also a bit problematic: sometimes it didn't ring true, or was too banal, and there wasn't enough of a difference between the way the various characters spoke. It also has to be said - and this goes for the other two MNW titles that I have read - that more diligent proofreading would've cleaned out some of the annoying typos that pop up from time to time.
As I say, though, the thrust of the story keeps things going to its very satisfying and clever finale. I would recommend this to anyone who loves something a bit waspish and delightfully evil. I thought of Alan Hollinghurst when reading parts of this book.