“Lessons” is a fictional memoir of Roland Baines, a boy of great promise, a man of negligible achievement.
His story spans his lifetime, the second half of the twentieth century, and bears ongoing references to the historic events of that period. Many of those events have an immediate effect on Roland’s life, in some cases derailing it, in others only forcing him to change the direction of travel. His story begins in Libya where his stern Scottish father, Sergeant Baines, is posted, and traverses through the aftermaths of WW2 in divided Germany, the Suez Canal crisis, the Cold War, Chernobyl disaster and the dawn of New Labour, to mention a few.
The two pivotal events for Roland are the Cuban Missile Crisis and the fall of the Berlin War. These two events intervene directly in his personal life and in the choices he makes that will irreversibly distort his future. The theme of history and political changes on the global scale making life-changing incisions into individual lives is convincing, even compelling.
It is a memoir but it doesn’t present a linear sequence of events in Roland’s life in a conventional way. Two events cast a long shadow over his story and they keep re-appearing to haunt him, to provide justification and generate further questions, and to make him revisit and re-examine them. The first event is his juvenile affair with his piano teacher, passionate and obsessive on both sides. It is instrumental in transforming a promising young musician and academic into a wayward drifter, addicted to sex and averse to permanency and commitment. The second event is his abandonment by his wife Alissa who leaves him and their son in order to pursue a literary career unhindered by family and duty. One can’t help wondering if Roland is not only hurt by her departure, but also in some way jealous that it is her and not him who is able to detach herself so completely from the mundanity of the ordinary, pedestrian life he is obliged to live in order to take care of their son Lawrence. But perhaps that is Roland’s ultimate saving grace. Something that roots him in reality. “Lessons” is an intelligent, deeply introspective and emotionally loaded book. It has made me stop and think at every corner, at every twist and turn of Roland’s private life and its contemporary context.