A boy who on the face of it appears to have the world at his feet after completing his final year of university, The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock, in reality feels more like he is sinking into the ground beneath him in Charles Webb’s 1963 novel. After returning home from university and being paraded like a show pony before his parents’ friends, Benjamin concludes that his entire academic life has been little more than an extremely expensive waste of time. Abandoning his plans to enroll in a graduate course, Benjamin finds himself staring into an arid desert of nothingness and embarks upon an affair with the wily Mrs Robinson – a friend of his parents – to fill the void.
The affair sparks a chain of events that grow steadily more bizarre until the conclusion of the novel, with Benjamin’s behaviour growing increasingly erratic. Benjamin’s sense of utter loss as to what to do in nearly every situation delivers absurd passages of dialogue, chiefly with Mrs Robinson and her daughter Elaine, who post-affair serve as Benjamin’s crafty nemesis and his genuine love interest respectively. The dialogue captures the awkwardness and indecision of a young man who does not know either who he is or what he wants to do with his life and can be both excruciating and entertaining in equal measure.
Following Benjamin’s descent into apparent madness, one could be forgiven for thinking they are reading about a boxer getting savagely beaten, as even though the situation seems beyond hopeless for Benjamin, reading on in anticipation of the final knockout blow cannot be helped. The finale doesn’t disappoint with the only hope Benjamin has left to cling to: that Elaine will marry him, hanging delicately in the balance.
While Benjamin’s actions throughout the story are often laughably impetuous and flawed, they nonetheless succeed in transporting us all back to our own youthful days of ignorance and impulsivity, the era in which long-term planning was alien and decisions were perpetually made on a whim. They provide a reminder of the scope of opportunity that stood before us all in our early twenties and how such opportunity though grand in scale, is often a weight too heavy for many to bear.
Rating: 4.5/5 Hilarious coming-of-age tale with sublimely ridiculous dialogue that is conducive to the book being read in one sitting.