"Loved The Line of Beauty, mooned over Brideshead, lapped up The Secret History? Then this one's for you.... Stourton really can write." Independent on Sunday
The Night Climbersby Ivo Stourton
When James Walker arrives at Tudor College, Cambridge, he tries to create a vague air of mystery about himself in the hope of making the right kind of friends. By accident or fate he encounters a member of the Night Climbers, a wealthy, secretive, and tantalizingly eccentric circle of undergraduates who scale the college towers and gargoyles at night in pursuit of
When James Walker arrives at Tudor College, Cambridge, he tries to create a vague air of mystery about himself in the hope of making the right kind of friends. By accident or fate he encounters a member of the Night Climbers, a wealthy, secretive, and tantalizingly eccentric circle of undergraduates who scale the college towers and gargoyles at night in pursuit of the kind of thrill-seeking danger that makes them feel truly alive.
Seduced by their reckless charisma and talent for decadence, James falls for both Francis, the group's ringleader, and Jessica, his beautiful best friend. Their extravagant living is financed, unwittingly, by Francis's father, but when he suddenly cuts his son off, the friends are left floundering as they try to maintain a lifestyle they can't afford. That is, until Francis embroils them in a plan that will test the limits of their friendship and link them to one another forever.
Humming with intellectual energy and grace, The Night Climbers portrays the intensity of early relationships, when people are at their most impressionable, and explores the ties that bind with a keen eye.
Young James Walker's life is terribly predictable and horribly dull, and his arrival at Cambridge University does little to transform it. He makes no friends; he has no social life. But when he is holed up in his room late one night, a rap on his window alerts him to the presence of an out-of-breath student, a "night climber," and everything changes.
Shortly thereafter, James finds himself in the company of the charming Francis, wealthy, generous, and troubled; tantalizing Jessica; fickle Michael, the snob of the group; and cryptic Lisa, who has a knack for making money on the sly. Together, their days are filled with adventure, hilarity, and outrageousness -- from glittery champagne parties to illicit gambling and faked exam papers -- adding the longed-for vibrancy to James's life. Now at least he belongs. He has clever, rich, mischievous friends, for whom he readily abandons his former self.
But what price is to be paid for this assimilation? By the end of school, these desperately good friends have disbanded: some cast out, some no longer among the living. And now, after a decade of silence, Jessica arrives on James's doorstep, as a deception from their shared past rears its ugly head. A wondrous tale of enlightenment, an examination of the deep ties we forge, and a reflection on the sacrifices we're willing to make for our friends, The Night Climbers is an auspicious debut. (Holiday 2007 Selection)
British author Stourton's ambitious debut paints a complex, if often predictable, portrait of collegiate hedonism and friends bound by a terrible secret. As an awkward first-year at Cambridge's Tudor College, James fears he'll never join the ranks of his privileged classmates. But when a chance encounter introduces him to a close-knit group of friends devoted to scaling the college's buildings in the dead of night, James finds himself drawn into a world of excess and adventure. Francis, the group's charismatic leader, is adored by the beautiful but aloof Jessica, on whom James harbors a secret crush. The group is rounded out by Lisa, with her eye for shady business deals, and Michael, the blustery jock. After Francis's father, Lord Soulford, cuts off his son's monthly allowance, the friends hatch a plan to maintain their lavish lifestyle that will have disastrous consequences for years to come. With undeniable echoes of Donna Tartt's The Secret History, the novel juggles too many story lines to sustain the suspense needed for such a complicated tale. Still, Stourton is a name to watch. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Read an Excerpt
There were security barriers in the foyer, thick glass turnstiles that fell open when you stuck the right card in the slots. The receptionists, however, were the real security. "Can I help you?" rang out across the lobby from behind the desk like "Who goes there?" from a battlement. It was a surprise, therefore, to find Jessica sitting in my black leather chair, waiting for me to return from the basement gym where I had spent a cathartic lunch break pummeling my personal trainer, sweating out the last drops of the previous night's whiskey. I knew from the way she looked at me, tilting her head forward and peering out from under her blond bangs while she gave me a lopsided smile, that she had lied her way in. Her expression was just as I remembered it when we'd gotten away with something, and it pulled me back into the past with the force of a scent. At thirty-two she was already losing her looks. They were not going gracefully, with the haunting quality that briefly heightens doomed beauty. She had bags under her eyes and a spot on her chin where her makeup had formed a beige scab. I took no pleasure in this, but I did take pleasure from the fact that I didn't care. Indifference, not feigned but genuinely felt, was a hard-won victory, and I prized it.
She was playing with the objects on my desk. My pens were scattered over the blotting paper.
"How can I help?" I asked.
"Don't you want to know how I got in? I pretended to be from London Underground. I read about the deal you're doing, turning public services private. I'm your two thirty." She grinned. "You look nice. And you look rich." She leaned across the desk and lifted one of the silver balls on my Newton's Cradle, letting it go to hit its fellow with a gentle click.
As I looked at her, I tried to gauge her financial situation. It seemed the quickest way to divining what she wanted. Her platinum hair had been recently cut and highlighted. Her fingernails were salon neat and unpainted, but shined. She wore a simple, scuffed Tiffany silver pendant. Her black suit could have been tailored, but Jessica had always had a body that made cheap clothes look expensive. In the days when I had known her well, she had practiced a policy of sartorial simplicity designed to exhibit her natural gifts and I think to embarrass the girls who dressed up. I could not tell whether this policy had survived the passing of her beauty. I thought on the whole that choice had given way to necessity. There was no ring on her finger.
Jessica sat back in her chair and met my eye as if to ask, "And what has become of you?"
"So, you're my two thirty. I bill at two hundred and fifty pounds an hour. What can I do for you?"
"You can give me a discount, for starters."
We looked at each other with fixed smiles, our gazes headlights speeding toward each other in the dark. She relented first. "I need a place to stay for a few days. I don't want to go to a hotel. I don't want to go to friends. I don't want to be found."
She rose from my seat. Her movements still had the light accent of childhood ballet. Born of parental ambition, undone by a teenage growth spurt, a graceful precision was the last legacy of repetition and bleeding toes. To my displeasure, I noticed that behind the chair sat a briefcase and a piece of fake Louis Vuitton luggage, its beige midriff distended with packing. Jessica knew the difference that social leverage could make, and it would be that much more awkward to dismiss her if she had all the practical necessities already at hand. I wondered what the receptionists downstairs would think of my attractive female client arriving prepared for an overnight stay. It was typical of Jessica to cause disruption simply by virtue of her presence. The air was still filled with the faint metallic click of the toy she had set in motion on my desk. With an air of unimpeachable honesty, she addressed me eye to eye.
"Is there somewhere else we can go to talk? I don't mean to be melodramatic; I just haven't seen you in a long time, and if I'm going to get turned down I'd prefer to do it somewhere pretty. Don't you have a client hospitality area or something? After all, I am a client." She grinned again.
We stood in the lift, and I watched as the two halves of my image slid together in the metallic panels of the doors. Jessica's appraising look was still fresh in my mind, and I checked myself out discreetly. My dark hair was perfectly slicked, my blue eyes glowed even in the dull surface of the metal. My arms were thick from the gym. The slight bulge of flesh around my collar appeared again today. I raised my chin a little to tighten the skin. Jessica almost caught me in the reflection, and I looked away. The lift deposited us smoothly on the top floor, like riding up in the palm of a giant. The doors slid apart, and my image divided and disappeared. By the time we arrived, Jessica was solemn, demonstrating one of those mercurial mood swings that had confounded her youthful suitors. The young men at Cambridge could never tell whether to court her as a child, a princess, an executive, or a clown. Only the few of us who had become truly close to her had learned to read her sudden shifts, like sailors at the mercy of an unpredictable sky.
The great glass wall of client reception disclosed a cinematic view of the city, stretching down to the glittering ribbon of the river and the stately dome of Saint Paul's. On the Southbank the great blocks of culture faced the towers of commerce, the National Theatre hunkered down on the edge of the Thames, its gray concrete balconies camouflaged against the sky. I put on my overcoat and led Jessica past the ranks of black leather sofas, neatly stacked periodicals, and the fresh fruit and orchids quietly dying in their glass vessels.
The Japanese garden on the client reception floor had one of the best views in the city. Old enemies appeared on the eastern horizon, Magic Circle law firms sitting in state by Moorgate. The balcony overlooked Saint Andrew's Church, a tiny nub of conscience subsisting in the center of the financial monoliths, so much older than the buildings that blocked it from the sunlight. The leaves of the weeping willow in the churchyard spilled over the wrought-iron railings onto the pavement. The roof garden itself was composed of large black obsidian stones and elegant little shrubs arranged on a bed of white sand. The sand was raked into perfect parallel trenches, like a plowed field in delicate miniature. A slate walkway paved the edges and formed a bridge over a tiny stream that bubbled up through the rocks. The sky seemed huge when you were so many floors above the skyline, with no other buildings hemming it in. It closed like the lid of a freezer over the cold city. I felt proud to have brought her up here, on top of my impressive building, above my kingdom.
I slid the door closed behind us, and heard the comforting click of the catch, sealing my working world inside like the body of a despot in a vast stone tomb. The wind was strong so high above the street and carried a film of drizzle that coated the garden with a thin layer of cold moisture. She walked away from me, her heels sounding on the gray slate, and leaned on the stainless steel banister that separated the balcony from the empty air beyond.
"I know what you're thinking, James. I'm not on the run from the mafia or the police, and I don't want money from you or help or anything else, really, except a couple of showers' worth of hot water. You work during the day. I go out at night. You won't even see me, if you don't want to."
"I don't know how you are placed financially, Jessica," I said, slipping into my professional idiom. "But it seems to me that you could easily budget for a hotel with a higher degree of anonymity than an old university buddy's flat."
She sat on the metal bar that ran around the side of the balcony and put her feet against the large black boulder nearest the edge of the carefully raked white sand, dimpled from the raindrops. Behind her I could see a roof that the building's architects had never intended for public view. It was ten stories down. I thought of how best to guide her back from her perch without showing that it made me uncomfortable.
"You have become pompous. Is that what we are? Old 'university buddies'?"
Angry horns bleated down in the street. With her hands clutched around the bar and her shoulders hunched a little forward against the chill, she straightened her long legs slightly, leaning her slender torso fractionally backward into space. I felt the sharp edge of a fledgling concern tapping against the inside of my skull. With a steady voice, I answered. "I haven't seen you in the best part of a decade. What would you prefer to be called?" She was already drawing me away from a proper examination of her motives.
"Oh, I don't know. Something with a little feeling. Playmate, darling, co-conspirator..." This last one she delivered in a theatrical, breathy whisper.
"I think I have company this weekend," I said.
"She'll understand. Women like to be made to wait. You don't want to be overly available."
Not these women, I thought.
She shivered and tugged the thin material of her jacket tight around her thin, slight body. The falling mist strengthened for a moment into drizzle. She straightened her legs with little jerks, a childish gesture of distraction that pushed her body farther and farther out over the edge. I clenched my hands behind my back so that she could not see them. There was a light wind, so high above the street, and it carried the loose strands of her blond hair up and over her cheekbones.
"My place isn't big. I don't have a spare bed, and "
She pushed up suddenly onto the balls of her feet. The gesture carried her too far, and she fell first backward, then forward to the floor with a spasmodic tightening of her stomach. A surge of adrenaline manned my chest, and I ran toward her with an inarticulate cry. She was laughing with the exhilaration of her near disaster and with triumph at the terror in my face. I had started out across the perfect garden, breaking the patterned surface with my feet. The cut of my suit pushed me into an unnatural feminine jog, and I knew that I must have looked ridiculous. I acknowledged her victory with a sheepish smile and walked over to where she leaned laughing against the rail. Her laughter gave way to a coughing fit, and she bent over almost like an old man clutching her stomach. Somehow the moment seemed vulnerable rather than disgusting.
"So, can I stay or what?" she said when she had regained some measure of control.
"Fuck it. Why not."
She was lying, but there would be time to discover the truth. I could not remember when an obligation had been placed on me that was purely human. I did things because of what I had signed, what was expected, what was right, what was paid. This I would do because of who had asked me. I said yes because once I would have done anything for her and required nothing in return. Many people would have once done anything for her, but she would have actually accepted my help.
"We'll stay up all night. It'll be like old times," she said. "You might even have fun."
Copyright © 2007 by Ivo Stourton
Meet the Author
Ivo Stourton was born in 1982 and received high honors (a double
first) in English at Cambridge. He is currently training to be a city
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Night Climbers was an engaging story. Told in a flash-back format, the "caper" is slowly unveiled and the consequences shared in the last 50 pages. The characters are compelling and the style reminds one of Joanne Harris's "Gentlemen and Players." and definately enjoyable read.
After having spent the summer in Cambridge, England I was eager to read The Nightclimbers, especially since the novel had such promise of the secret societies and wealth that I had heard of whilst there. At first, the book was rather promising- a likable young hero that was just as inexperienced as we were, the potential for a fascinating daring plotline, and the true intigue that is offered when a reader encounters a mysterey. The book did deliever on the character front- James is always down to earth because he's an outsider like we are, but he is severely flawed in many ways making him a sophisticated character. The vivacious, but self-destructing ringleader, Francis, is presented in such a way that we as readers can understand why the others were so attracted to him and what he represented. Other members of the Nightclimbers- the beautiful insecure Jessica, the flamboyant insincere Michael, and the shady Lisa- are also captivating. Yet overall, the story is not so. We keep waiting for real intrigue, this is one of those books that should be a pageturner, but Stourton just drivels on and never leads us to anything exciting. We end up feeling just as cheated by Stourton's antics as James is by Francis's. The narrative is also polluted with superfulous metaphors- there is almost one a page. And even though Stourton could have some rather elegant metaphors, most are randomly smashed into the end of a chapter, thus defeating the real purpose.
Eighteen years old Tudor College of Cambridge University freshman James Walker is a bit awed at being at the prestigious school, but that will not preclude his desire to party with pretty coeds. Still he fears he will be left on the outside unless he befriends the in-crowd whoever they are. James meets Michael Findlay and he leads the newcomer to a bunch of thrill-seekers who welcome him to join their group, the Tudor Night Climbers. Although he has some doubts about climbing buildings and other edifices at night he joins them. He quickly is attracted to Jessica Katz, but she seems to desire the dynamic leader Francis. When Francis¿ father cuts off his funding (and consequently the group), they follow up on an idea by one of them, Lisa, to continue to finance their climbing way of life Emboldened by Francis they remain naive that fourteen years later they will still be paying the price. --- THE NIGHT CLIMBERS is a fascinating complex (perhaps too complicated with its myriad of subplots) group character study. The building climbing apparently is based on a 1960s fad (although this reviewer does not know of any Queens College climbers). Each of the key characters are fully developed and ultimately tied together by the scheme more than by the climbing or the attraction. Ivo Stoughton provides an appealing glimpse at the tentative bonds of friendship. --- Harriet Klausner