Set in the early 1990s on a British army base, 4 a.m. tells the story of Cal and Manny, soldiers posted to Germany as army chefs. Bored and institutionalised, the pair soon succumb to the neon temptations of Hamburg's red-light district, where they dive into a seedy world of recreational drugs and all-night raves. But it is only a matter of time before hedonism and military discipline clash head on, with comic and poignant consequences.
Read first chapter
Life-affirming raving 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 one of their lives forever.
Drawing on personal experience and extensive research, 4 a.m. is an iconic novel of friendship and betrayal, hedonism and military discipline. 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.
Nina de la Mer is also the author of Layla (Myriad, 2014).
4 a.m. Book Group Guide
Bookgroup info29 January 2015
'This novel blew me away… Nina de la Mer gives a wonderful, compelling portrayal of the army’s need to break young soldiers and rebuild them in the desired form. This comes at a human cost, and the reader sees it and feels it… It’s not Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman: it’s a fraction of the glamour but so much more meaningful… This is a novel that, at first, is warm and humorous. But with time and growing realisation, it becomes pretty bleak. The ending (I won’t spoil it) is deeply moving and handled with great sensitivity… Right now, it is January. Have I already read my book of the year?'
Dear Scotland1 October 2012
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.View source
Pamreader24 August 2011
An outstanding first novel, where hope and despair dance side by side in a euphoric haze of drugs. 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.View source
Rosie Davis, Brighton Writers
4 a.m. looks at pill popping, techno addicted squaddies and [de la Mer's] use of the Scottish accent throughout the novel enables the reader to sit side by side her characters, following them through the sweaty, neon lit streets of Hamburg to the gut wrenching smell of the army barrack's toilets. I hope that we will see another novel from this talented writer.
An ambitious first novel... It’s a brave author who enters such world - 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.
The View From Here
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.
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.View source
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.
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 through 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.
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 debut novel of friendship, love and betrayal. An anthem for the E generation.
Scottish Review of Books
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.
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.