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Five of the best campus novels

Five of the best campus novels


The appeal of the classic campus novel lies in its divergence from the typical student experience, particularly in the UK. While stories of intense interpersonal conflicts, idealistic beliefs, and picturesque surroundings may be common in these novels, they are not representative of the reality for most students. Instead, housing struggles, ghosting on dating apps, and reliance on cheap food and alcohol are more prevalent. This explains why narratives of a more enlightened student experience continue to be highly sought after.

These five books provide a peek into the luxurious realm of prestigious academia, spanning from New England to North London.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Released in 1992, this popular novel set on a college campus has gained a new following through BookTok. It centers around a group of classics students at a prestigious liberal arts college in New England who become increasingly involved in Greek mythology and disturbing activities. A key piece of literature for those who enjoy the “dark academia” trend, it’s no wonder that this well-crafted story of taboo relationships, wild parties, and unhealthy friendships continues to resonate over 30 years since its debut.

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride

Eimear McBride’s second book takes on the form of a lyrical and sparkling prose, disregarding grammatical norms. It is a campus novel that challenges the daring reader to embark on a journey with Eily, a young Irish student at a renowned drama school in London who engages in a tumultuous relationship with an older, somewhat famous actor. Although our main character may spend more time in a bedsit in north London than on her university campus, the vivid portrayal of the joys and occasional terrors of navigating through life makes it a worthwhile inclusion.

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner is a novel that stands out from traditional campus novels. Unlike others that romanticize academic life, this book follows William Stoner, the protagonist who experiences repression in his later years as a professor at a Midwestern university, after feeling liberated as a student. The story covers Stoner’s life, death, and unfulfilling career, delving into the impact of accumulated disappointments on a person’s spirit. While this may seem depressing, it is actually the opposite. This book is a must-read for those who have ever felt like they betrayed their social class in the pursuit of education.

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Brandon Taylor’s Real Life

In Brandon Taylor’s first novel, the main character Wallace is the only black doctoral student in his program in over thirty years. After his father’s passing in Missouri, Wallace isolates himself from even his closest acquaintances and keeps his grief a secret from his colleagues at the university he attends in the Midwest. The story of Real Life takes place over a weekend in late summer, where Wallace’s carefully crafted academic work, complicated relationships, and attempts to escape past traumas all start to unravel. The novel explores themes of self-preservation in the oppressive and predominantly white world of wealth and academia on a college campus.

“Beauty is not a thing but a relationship. It is not a permanent feature like a nose or a certain shade of skin, but a momentary experience between two things: a person and something else.”

According to Zadie Smith, beauty is not an object, but rather a connection between two things – a person and something else. It is not a fixed characteristic, such as a nose or skin color, but rather a fleeting encounter.

The third novel by Zadie Smith took its title from a poem written by her husband, Nick Laird. This is not the first time the novelist has taken inspiration from the poet – it is said that during their time as students at Cambridge, she asked him for all his notes the night before an exam. In her more recent essay collection, Feel Free (released in 2018), Smith once again borrowed from her husband’s unpublished poetry collection. However, the title On Beauty could not be more fitting for this brilliant novel, which follows two intellectuals in conflict at a prestigious liberal arts college in New England. It serves as both a satirical commentary on the pretentiousness of East Coast academia (with the author herself making a cameo appearance) and a tribute to the classic novel Howards End. Overall, it is considered one of Smith’s finest works.

Source: theguardian.com