Fleur Macdonald

Losing It

The Virgins


John Murray 281pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The gulf between expectation and experience makes the loss of virginity one of the most literary of life’s rites of passage. Not having done ‘it’ is as ineffably character-defining – or damning – at school as being a prefect or a star of the sports team. But once it’s gone, bemused detachment makes the agonies of a past self seem unreal. In The Virgins, Pamela Erens’s approach is more sincere than funny. Before plunging us into the sweaty intensity of first love, the grown-up narrator asks, ‘Please do not smirk; try to remember what it was like, once upon a time.’ The school is reportedly based on the one Erens, former editor of Glamour, attended – an elite East Coast institution that counts John Irving and John Knowles as alumni. This unhealthy Eden is a claustrophobic hothouse where drugs are rife and authority figures absent.

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