In this section:
Mesmerising. And kind of frightening that a female writer can crawl so far into the male psyche.
4 a.m. is an iconic novel of friendship and betrayal, hedonism and military discipline.
The year is 1993 and Cal and Manny are soldiers posted to Germany as army chefs. Bored and institutionalized, the pair soon succumb to the temptations of recreational drugs and all-night raves in Hamburg’s red-light district. Life-affirming clubbing soon gives way to gloomy, drug-fuelled nights in fast-food restaurants, at sex shows, and in Turkish dive bars. As a succession of events ratchets up the pressure on Cal and Manny, their friendship is tested, a secret is revealed and a shocking betrayal changes their lives forever.
Drawing on personal experience and extensive research, 4 a.m. depicts life in a peacetime Army, and a civilian milieu in which conflict is never far away. Driven by two distinctive voices, and written in a lively and buzzing style, Nina de la Mer's debut novel holds a mirror up to youth culture at the end of the twentieth century. The reflection is not always a flattering one.
4 a.m. is very original, with really credible characters and a great sense of time and place.
It is punk that is frequently described as nihilistic, but de la Mer shows that rave culture is far more deserving of that description. Her characters are swept along by circumstances they are powerless to change – in this case being caught in the unstoppable cogs of army life – and so lose themselves in drugs and music. 4 a.m. is as vicariously thrilling in its portrayal of the hedonistic highs as it is honest in its depiction of how transient and empty those good times are.
There’s a strong echo of writers such as Irvine Welsh and Alan Bissett in de la Mer’s debut novel. She does an excellent job producing authentic voices, reﬂecting the energy and recklessness, but also the fear and the lack of self-conﬁdence of the men, especially Cal. The depiction of a troubled masculinity in an urban setting is something we have long associated with male Scottish writers, and it’s encouraging to see a woman take this subject on board.
Set on a British army base and in the anarchic club scene of ‘90s Hamburg, 4a.m. tells the story of Cal and Manny, squaddies and diehard ravers, whose individual voices resonate in a sparkling début novel of friendship, love and betrayal. An anthem for the E generation.
A genre defining tale of the early '90s rave scene... A Class A novel about a friendship under pressure during the early 1990s rave scene. 4 a.m. captures not only the time and place (a British army base) but also the perennial pressures of growing from carefree youth into responsible and rounded adulthood.
It had me gripped from the off, and by its close I felt I'd actually been willingly dragged kicking and screaming though Nina's fictional world, and emerged a more rounded and less judgemental human being for my efforts. Novel of the year? I've yet to read a better one.
This week we're... thinking it's about time we had a female Irvine Welsh as we read East Kilbride-raised and Brighton-based Nina de la Mer's debut novel 4 a.m. It's a pill-popping, autobahn-speed book about dodgy soldiers, rave culture and Hamburg's red light district.
4 a.m. is an original and well executed exploration of how positive and negative mental attitudes can have a profound impact on how well a human being will cope with the ups and downs of life. A remarkable book by an extraordinarily gifted writer, whose research into the psyche of the male persona explodes off every page.
Nina de la Mer’s debut novel is stunning. The talent of this novel is in its racy writing and flawless characterisation. The Glasgow dialect is perfection in contrast to the colloquial English of Manny and Iain...Nina de la Mer delves deep into the male psyche with extraordinary perception. The frankly graphic language, due to its brilliant delivery, is never offensive only adding to characterisation and insightful writing...This is a ‘must read’ novel of British Army life in peacetime overshadowed by war in Bosnia, where Cal is posted with life-changing consequences. Gripping, frightening, funny and sad, 4 a.m. is a terrific read.
The novel is a hell of a read...it is an extraordinary debut and shows de la Mer to be a writer of both skill and aptitude. It’s also refreshing to see a female author who is prepared to stray from the clichés of chick lit, psychological thrillers and family dramas and write from the male perspective in a gritty contemporary drama.
An ambitious first novel...It’s a brave author who enters such worlds, the army and the rave scene, creates a credible and fast-moving plot and hits some big philosophical issues. For all the concern with matters military and drug-related, this book is about loyalty and betrayal, about friendship in adversity, about love and its shallow proxies.
Although throughout the novel there are thumping basslines, pills and powders, the real success is how refreshingly de la Mer writes about growing up, what that means to friendships and relationships, and how that process is often, or always, a painful one...4 a.m. captures a time and place brilliantly, and manages to introduce multiple characters without losing sight of their individuality...It also sets out the madness of army life as can also be found in the likes of MASH, Catch 22 and particularly Robert O’Connor’s Buffalo Soldiers, novels which are as relevant as comparisons to Welsh, Warner and Hird...Some have called Nina de la Mer ‘the female Irvine Welsh’, but that doesn’t tell you enough about the quality of her writing.
Interview with Books From Scotland
'Drugs are really hard to write about' - Nina on raving, drugs & squaddies in an interview for brap.fm
Attempting to build a 'metaphorical onion'. Nina talks about writing 4 a.m. in an interview for the Strange Alliances blog.