Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book 302: The Club


"Long before that evening, in my first boxing lessons, I’d learnt that it’s not the punch that hurts, because skulls are hard: it’s the humiliation. And because I was a small man who no one would expect to beat a hundred-kilo hulk in a light blue blazer, I could only win. You can’t box well if you’re afraid."

Dates read: March 12-26, 2019

Rating: 6/10

There's a reason there's so much media focused on the elites: our culture is both fascinated and repulsed by them in equal measure. We love to read about and watch the ways the rich are "just like us" and then, at the end, not like us at all. The teenagers at the exclusive Constance Billiard School on Gossip Girl want to be liked and accepted and fight with their friends and worry about grades like every teenage girl, but The Great Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan is able to just...move on with her life after committing vehicular homicide. And even as many of us proclaim that we like our lives and wouldn't want the scrutiny and pressure that wealth and fame brings, we all buy lotto tickets when the jackpot gets high enough.

In Takis Wurger's The Club, we first meet our protagonist Hans as a young boy, solitary at heart but happy, living with his parents in a small town in Germany. But when both of those loving parents die in quick succession, his only living relative is his strange aunt Alex, a professor at Cambridge University. She sends him off to boarding school, where one of the teachers helps him to channel his depression into athletics and he becomes a skilled boxer. When he graduates, his aunt approaches him with an offer: she will get him into Cambridge, in exchange for his agreement to infiltrate the Pitt Club, one of the campus's private social groups.

Once Hans reaches England, Alex arranges for him to meet up with Charlotte, one of her graduate students. At first, Charlotte is necessary for Hans to gain entry to the Pitt Club's world, through her wealthy and well-connected father, but the two form a genuine connection. Hans gets drawn deeper into the Club as his pugilistic talents cement his place inside of it. But Alex didn't ask him to become one of them for his own enjoyment...she has plans to expose a secret and revenge a wrong in a way that could bring it all crashing down.

Look away if you're not interested in spoilers! Though it hardly feels fair to talk about it as such. The secrets here are not too difficult to guess at: there's no surprise that groups of young, privileged men engage in drug use and sexual assault, and then manage largely to escape consequences for it. What makes this particular account of this phenomenon more interesting than many is its air of reality: Wurger himself attended Cambridge and was a member of the Pitt Club before leaving the university. And the book is lucky that it has that additional angle, because as a mystery/thriller it isn't really successful...the plot development is straightforward and goes pretty much exactly where you expect it to go.

Which isn't to say that it doesn't do some things well! Wurger's technique of narrating the story through multiple perspectives (Hans is the most prominent, but Charlotte, Alex, fellow Club member Josh, and a Chinese student desperate to be accepted are heard from, among others) is effective and keeps the story moving forward briskly. Hans, drawn as a self-sufficient introvert, is a refreshing character to spend time with...while he certainly does appreciate the finer things in life he's able to access once he's inside, we don't get the dazzled-then-disillusioned arc typical in this kind of work. The subject matters feels timely and relevant. If you like these kinds of books, you'll likely find this solid yet unremarkable. If you're looking for something to take you somewhere unexpected, though, look elsewhere.

One year ago, I was reading: Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.

Two years ago, I was reading: Empire Falls

Three years ago, I was reading: The Luminaries

Four years ago, I was reading: Duel with the Devil

Five years ago, I was reading: The Wolf in the Attic

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