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Bright Young Things - Scarlett Thomas

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      16.03.2013 19:34
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      could have been better

      Bright Young Things Required for Big Project

      This is the job advert that Anne, Bryn, Jamie, Thea, Emily and Paul respond to when they see it in the media section of the Guardian. They are delighted when they are invited for an interview in Edinburgh and accept a cup of coffee from the interviewer. The next thing they know, they have woken up in a strange place. They have been drugged and kidnapped and find themselves on a deserted island with no apparent means of escape and no way to communicate with the outside world.

      This is not a tale about how these bright young things survive in the wilderness; they wake up in a house which has a bedroom each, an electricity generator, running water and food cupboards stocked with enough supplies to keep them sustained for months. The big question is who has brought them here and why? Will they ever escape the island and make it home again?

      Bright Young Things was written in 1999, just before the series of Big Brother aired so the idea of studying people isolated from their communities was a new thing. Of course, we have seen many reality TV series now but I was interested in how this concept would translate to print.

      The first half of the book indtroduces us to the characters. All are dissatisfied with their current lives and looking for a change. These young graduates are stuck in lives they don't particularly plan, like most of the population. Thea works in a care home by day and is addicted to video games by night, Bryn has become a drug dealer, Anne lives on an allowance from her parents, Emily is working as an escort, Jamie the Cambridge maths graduate is sick of his nagging girlfriend and Paul the computer geek wants a fresh start.

      How do these bright young things keep themselves amused upon a deserted island with no TV or video games or any of the other distractions that life has to offer? They sit and talk about modern culture, especially Australian soaps and video games and have a few games of truth and dare. Luckily I was a Home and Away addict in 1999 so looked on the numerous conversations on that subject with fondness but the endless talk about video games bored me.

      Just as the bright young things settle on the island, the story takes a sinister turn. This was not handled very well as the plot becomes rather ludicrous and far fetched. I know that a mass kidnapping leading to a bunch of twenty-somethings being dumped on an island stretches credibility anyway but when you add what could be the plot of a bad horror film in then the story just becomes silly.

      I did enjoy the book overall, it was a fun and light read but I felt that there was so much more which could have been done with the characters. The portion of the book where they were on the island could have been explored in a lot more depth looking at their interactions and relationships with one another instead of them talking about soap operas and video games.

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        25.01.2013 18:52
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        An interesting sounding book which doesn't live up to its potential.

        Paul, Jamie, Bryn, Anne, Emily and Thea are six twenty-somethings living very different lives in the south of England. All, however, are fresh out university and in desperate need of a 'proper job'. When they come across an advertisement in a newspaper which simply reads 'Bright Young Things wanted for Big Project' they apply, mainly out of curiosity. All six are called up to Edinburgh for an interview, none of them expect to wake up on a small island somewhere with no idea how they got there and no way of getting home. Furthermore, the last thing they expect to find when they realise they've been kidnapped is a decent looking and sized house stocked to the brim with food, drink, medicine, wine, cigarettes and renewable energy. Who bought them here? More importantly, why? What was going to happen to them? Would they ever make it back to the 'real world'?

        Bright Young Things sounded like an interesting and unusual story to me and, for 20p from the Kindle store, I was more than willing to give it a go. I have to say though I've been left quite disappointed by doing so.

        The book starts by introducing us to these six main characters. What they're doing with their lives, their relationships, past experiences and how they came about applying for the Bright Young Things job. Despite each introduction to the characters being quite short, maybe three or so pages long, I felt Thomas did a good job at giving us enough information to allow us to get to know these individual characters early on. Whilst more is revealed about them at a later stage you already know who you do and don't like before the story has really began. Each introduction also links smoothly and realistically into the character coming across the advertisement and applying for it.

        After we get our character introductions the book becomes much more fast paced, we're thrown straight into the six of them waking up on this island, already getting to know one another and coming up with theories about why they are there and who bought them there. Just as we get to the fast paced parts of this book it soon turns much slower with Bright Young Things quickly turning into a book of conversations from this point on. Nothing really happens for a long time and no questions are answered. It's just six young people discussing their favourite TV programs, films and games. Given this is set in September 1999, some of these cultural references already feel quite outdated to me and I really can't imagine this being of those books you could still read in twenty years' time.

        The book keeps up like this for quite a while. There's a lengthy game of Truth or Dare which seems to go on forever but does allow us to further get to know these characters. This did start out really enjoyable but quickly turned quite boring and predictable. You're more than half way through before any real 'breakthrough' happens to answer any of the questions burning in your mind. Here the story brings in a faster pace again and little bits of information and partial answers are dripped through bit by bit over the course of the next few chapters. This is where probably the only twist and exciting part of the plot occurs and is quickly ripped away again by yet more meaningless conversations about the media.

        The ending is frankly a huge disappointment. There doesn't seem to be any real conclusion and the story doesn't feel like it's drawing to a close at all. In fact, it almost feels as though Thomas stopped writing half way through her novel and just published it like that. We never find anything much out and the amount of unanswered questions you're left is quite frustrating and, on the whole, hugely unsatisfying.
        Although I found the book became a little dull and boring in places I pressed on reading it as I really wanted to find out what happened in the end and I don't feel Bright Young Things delivered any satisfaction at all.

        It does have some strong point though. The characters are developed in a realistic ways and I found myself developing soft spots for all of them, including the ones I originally didn't like very much at all. Despite there being three girls and three boys it didn't turn into some soppy love story which I greatly appreciated as I can't stand that genre.

        The book also explored some interesting ideas. Despite being kidnapped against their will these six lived in an isolated world where they pretty much had everything they needed. They lived in peace; there was no war, famine or prejudice in their world. Was it really such a bad place to be? I also felt the story looked into how the media brain washes us. Despite being in this situation one of the biggest worries that kept popping up from just about all six of these characters was that there was no Coke, what if they would never drink Coke again? The six were more interested in discussing which games console was their favourite rather than working out a way to get home or even finding out where they were.

        Had the book ended less abruptly with a conclusion and answers then this would have been a very interesting and enjoyable read which offered something unique. Unfortunately I it wasted its potential and just became a rather boring and incomplete feeling story.

        Published - Canongate Books, 2012
        Pages - 342
        Price - £6.29 from Amazon (from £2.75 new and £3.04 used) Kindle Edition 20p

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        25.08.2004 15:59
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        • "badly written"

        ***About the Author *** Name: Scarlett Thomas Born in the year: 1972 Born in : London Scarlett has been included in the top 20 female writers in the year 2001.She has also won an Elle Style Award for her novel 'Going Out'. When she was younger she spent a lot of time demonstrating against things such as Poll Tax and the first Gulf War. *** Bright Young Things *** When the 'Media Guardian' prints a mysterious job advertisement stating 'Bright Young Things wanted for Big Project', six twenty-somethings decide that they could do with a new challenge. Their lives are going nowhere; they're either unemployed or stuck in dead end jobs, so they apply to the advertisement without delay. They attend an interview just like you would with any other job, only with this one, they can't remember much of it. For one minute they are sitting in the waiting room, and the next they are waking up on a deserted island. But how did they get there? Confused and groggy the six youngsters decide that as long as there's a house to stay in, food in the fridge, and a place to sleep, they aren't going to worry about how they got there or why they are there. After all it will just be like one big vacation right? *** My Overall opinion of the Book *** Displying itself in a fantastically bright, eye catching cover, Bright Young Things definitely stands out from other books on the shelf. That was in fact, the main reason why i bought the book; it looked fun. But what was inside the book, well, that was another story! I was hugely disappointed with this book, and in fact, I can say that it is probably the worst book I have ever read. The plotline was different to other books and it could have had serious potential. But the way it is, it's boring, slow and unimaginitively written. I've never read anything else from this author but after reading this I aren't going to
        bother. Without giving too much of the plot away I will say that one whole paragraph talks about the six twenty-somethings playing a game, and not a very interesting one at that! And the way it is set out is exactly the way you are taught not to write in school, he says then she says then i say then she says. It's not good to read and in fact it is the main reason the book gets so damn boring. It does give me one hope though; if books like this are published there's hope for me and my novel I eventually hope to write! I think a school child could have done better at this than Scarlett did. Maybe that's a bit harsh but you really do have to read it to believe it. I did read right through until the end with the hope that it would pick up, and granted, at one point it did pick up a little and there was a surprise and twist in the book but it just seemed to go speedily downhill again straight after that. I definitely would not recommend this book to anyone and it's a shame because like I said, it could have had so much potential with the original plotline she'd thought up. If for any reason you do want to read the book just to see for yourselves how bad it is I bought mine from World Books online. You can buy it on amazon though and maybe Ebay. I'm not sure it's in bookstores though and I've never spotted it at any supermarkets. Aimee xxx Capital letters courtesy of: http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php

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          12.09.2001 14:38
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          Six 20-somethings, all just out of college and in dead-end jobs, or not in jobs at all, are going nowhere. Life is a drag, and they're dying for anything to happen. In the summer of 1999 they are the lucky, or perhaps unlucky, chosen from about two thousand who chance upon an ad in 'Media Guardian', looking for 'bright young things wanted for big project', and answer with a SAE to a box number in Edinburgh. Let's meet them. There's Anne, Jamie, Thea, Bryn, Emily and Paul. One is a care assistant in an old people's home, another is a graduate earning good money as an escort (and doing everything that goes with it – sometimes). The others are - well, they just are. They all attend the interview at Edinburgh, and have vague memories of being offered coffee. The next thing they know is waking up on a deserted island. How they got there, who took or kidnapped them, and what they're meant to do, they don't know. Fortunately they have a roof over their heads, a bedroom each, with a decent supply of food in the fridge. Apart from that, all they have is each others company. No telephone, no TV, no internet, and above all no way to escape. So they talk about themselves, their tastes in movies, music, TV and soaps. It's all very end-of-the-century time capsule stuff. Emily finds Stephen Malkmus sexy. (Who? The lead singer of Pavement. Real anorak indie stuff, eh?) She also likes Jerry Springer. Thea hates him. Paul likes 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire'. Anne likes 'Babe: Pig in the City'. Jamie likes Blur. Bryn likes the movie 'War Games', as it was the last one his Dad took him to see. Before he was run over by a pizza delivery bike driven by his uncle. Where are they? Are they anywhere near Scotland? "It's weird not knowing where we are," says one. "Interesting. Alienating." Another thinks that alienation is
          a bad thing. Yet another says maybe, but Camus and Sartre may not agree. They wonder whether they're all going to be filmed having sex with each other, a suggestion greeted with varying degrees of enthusiasm, or lack of it. One of them proposes a game of Truth or Dare, which extends over several chapters. Lots of fantasizing about cyber sex, exhibitionism, and one of them recalls with intense embarrassment having been caught short in a multi-storey hotel in Russia on a school trip at the age of twelve. (I don't think you'll mind if I spare you the details). There's lots of naughty language, references to underwear, and everything that goes with it, but no really explicit leg-over stuff. Given the general tone of the book, I can't believe the author left it out to pacify great-aunt Matilda. Sorry, but it's hardly riveting stuff. This novel promises much, but it doesn't deliver. One of the most ultimately disappointing things about it is that the characters all seem curiously flat, all stereotypes. If one of them was a born leader, another a painfully introverted soul who suddenly found him/herself forced to grow up and change almost overnight, another a self-centred little nerd who likewise turns over a new leaf, and so on, the story would have more credibility. But no, each one of them seems to be remarkably similar. They may argue a bit about their virginity and their experience of, shall we say, the solitary business, but the differences hardly go any deeper than that. Is it meant to be some kind of satire on how much our consumer society has turned the 20-something generation into curiously identikit figures with a personality bypass? Maybe. I can't think of any other reason. In fact, halfway through the book, it dawned on me that I didn't really care much about them. Is it their fault, or the fault of society, that they're so nondescript? There are occasional little to
          uches where Thea comes across as a sensitive, likeable soul, but I can't say that about the others. Oh, and I won't give the ending away, for obvious reasons. In fact, I'm not sure there's a lot of ending to give away. Again, it seems strangely flat. This is Scarlett Thomas's fourth book. The previous three were thrillers, all set in south Devon, and I rather enjoyed them. As she's London-born, now Devon-based, that alone made me want to treat this book indulgently (if that's not against the dooyoo ethic - if so, sorry, but, well...) Sadly, this novel doesn't really work for me. It's as if she's had a great idea and then just run out of steam. Try the local library. BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS Scarlett Thomas Flame, 2001 (pbk) 0340767820 6.99 (5.59 Amazon)

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            15.08.2001 01:19
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            Stumbling on this little beauty of a book was really a stroke of serendipity. Serendipity is happy chance, for anyone that didn’t know. An old letch I used to work with, who was of a literary bent, explained to me that his earliest taste of serendipity was shinning up a lamppost as a boy and having a surprise first orgasm. A likely tale, but it illustrates serendipity amusingly well. I wonder if he fell off – never thought to ask at the time. Anyway, I was darting around the library in a flummox, when I saw a large paperback book with a bright blue cover and big yellow, red and blue words on it. So I grabbed it and fled. Had I taken time to look at it, it might have gone back on the shelf, as it has very Big Brothery/Castaway overtones. Fortunately I was in far too much of a hurry. So later on at home I started reading – and didn’t stop until the last page of entertainment was finished. At 342 pages it isn’t very long, because the writing is large and the chapters short. Thomas writes at such a pace though, that it’s always a case of I wonder…and you’re onto the next one without noticing. So what of Scarlett Thomas? Well, she was born in 1972 in London, or so the jacket blurb says. This is her 4th book, the previous ones are – Dead Clever, In Your Face and Seaside. The book cover is strangely short on platitudes from newspaper book reviewers, although she does have a section for this on her website. Is this out of a serene security in her abilities, scorn for the hacks per se, or a subtler disappointment that whilst they praise her writing, they seem to concentrate on the fact that she has nailed the zeitgeist of Twenty-something’s in the late 90s, rather than that she is an excellent novelist? The book begins by introducing six characters who apply for a mystery job - Bright young things wanted for big project - through snapshots of what they’re up to.
            ANNE is an odd but beautiful young woman, who applies for the job because her parents are threatening to stop supplying her with cash. This makes her sound bad I suppose, but Anne’s fairly unusual philosophy on life excuses her somewhat from convention. BRYN is a drug dealer cum photographer from Southend. Apparently the entire population of Essex are drug dealers, so he’s something of an ordinary bloke. A sort of Whatever–Happened-To-The-Levellers-Lad, if you know what I mean. A bit rough round the edges, but good hearted. A product of St Martins College, (Thomas immediately acknowledges the typical, but deliberate, irony) EMILY is filling in her time after uni as an escort, offering occasional expensive sex. This is an obvious cue for her to look for a job, as it’s hardly fulfilling post-grad work. JAMIE’s thing is math, at which he is brilliant. Unfortunately he doesn’t like math. Or his girlfriend. PAUL is a bit of a hacker with mischief on his mind. Having just lost his job playing cupid on the company e-mail system, he needs a new job from which to focus his recidivist tinkering. Last but not least, is THEA. Pushing prolapses back in isn’t taxing her, but she applied too late to get on her MA course. There must be something better. The six of them wake up after heading to Edinburgh for the job interview, feeling none too well, on a small island that’s deserted apart from a solitary house. Oh-oh, you could be forgiven for thinking, this is where the Big Brother/ Castaway/Survivor analogy kicks in. Well, it’s a fair thought to have, but the book was actually written in 1999, as an end of millennia time-capsule (If I recall one of the newspaper quotes correctly), so Thomas has pre-empted the latest in pop culture in several ways with this book. The island seems to be in British waters, from the climate - Taransay again springs to mind – but you c
            an rest assured from Thomas’ style that had she had any inkling of the TV phenomena of 2000/1, she would have hugely enjoyed having her characters make frequent comparisons with their situation, because the here and now is her thrill, it seems. Although I don’t want to give away much more of the plot, it’s too hard not to mention the way the six entertain themselves. The book, it’s worth mentioning, covers a time period of about two days, and it’s fair to say that although everything’s fast paced, she still gives enough of an insight into each character that you’re forced to perceive them as real. She writes in an easy fashion that never taxes the reader, but with an almost perfect control of the pitch, pace and plot, something most authors lack – this is a real strength she possesses. The narrative moves along unfalteringly, and whether the topic is masturbation or eavesdropping, Thomas never gets fazed by her output. This allows her to get away with the smorgasbord of pop culture she heaps on us, ranging from Anne’s potted history, defence and analysis of “Home and Away”- It works, honest – to the interests of the group in everything from early Atari’s to Play stations and PCs. Back to the home entertainment though. A long game of truth or dare occupies a chunk of the book, and this is a clever vehicle for allowing Thomas to explore her characters make-up, from the outer superficial in to their darkest secrets. It’s greatly entertaining and I find it hard to imagine anyone who won’t cringe, laugh, cry or all three at the realistic grilling she invents for the gang. As throughout the book, sharp humour is everywhere, delivered in Thomas’ matter of fact style. I’m not going to give any of the contents of the game away, as it’d spoil things and this is a book worth reading, but it’s fair to say most people (Well, in my age-group, at lea
            st) will know exactly where she’s coming from. scarlett thomas (She doesn’t capitalise her initials, for some reason) has a website that’s worth a visit if you’re interested further in her. It’s www.bookgirl.co.uk Amusingly she has made comments about some of the reviews the book was given, and here’s a snippet as it gives a flavour of scarlett in a few sentences – “Thanks, The Times, for the good review of BYT. And I’m not saying you’re thick or anything, and I am grateful…but, uh, IT'S NOT A F**KING SATIRE. There. And that goes for you too Cosmopolitan. Black Comedy? My arse.” The book is going for £6.99 in paperback, cheaper on-line but the postage soon swallows up any savings. I'm off to find out about the rest of her work.

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          • Product Details

            Six young people respond to the advert in The Times asking for bright young things for a project - all clever, all disaffected with their lives, all looking for an escape. What they least expect is to find themselves prisoners on an island. Their needs are well provided for with a comfortable house and provisions but there's no telephone, no television and no way to escape.