Author Patricia Nicol reveals the best books on: Universities

Author Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of the best books on: Universities

  • Patricia Nicol hopes this year’s students are settling into normal university life 
  • Novel such as Brideshead Revisited highlight that university should be exciting 
  • David Lodge’s Changing Places is a funny novel about academics’ lives  

Now that Freshers’ weeks are a blurry memory, I do hope this year’s intake of students is settling down to some sort of normal university life.

In school, you are told that university will be the reward for hard work: The chance to pursue a vocation or study a subject you (hopefully) love among like-minded peers. There is an expectation that it will be fun, too.

But fun did not seem most students’ foremost experience of the past academic year. There were tales of kids who had only just left home being confined to halls of residence with inadequate food supplies. At many places, the provision of online lecturing sounded dire for £9,000-a-year fees.

Of course, the whole world was wrong-footed by Covid, and some universities have dealt with the challenges better than others. Young relatives of mine who started last autumn, hoping for a different freshers experience, do not regret going. It’s better than a year at home waiting for adult life to start.

Patricia Nichol picks out a selection of the best books on university – including Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (pictured left) and David Lodge’s Changing Places (pictured right) 

Novels such as Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and Sally Rooney’s Normal People highlight how university should be an exciting time.

Snowflake by Irish writer Louise Nealon contains a funny but poignant description of a student, Debbie, commuting from her family farm to registration day at Trinity College, Dublin, and feeling a total misfit — ‘I am wearing one of my best pairs of jeans and one of Billy’s check shirts with the cuffs rolled up. I look like I’m going out to dig potatoes.’

Unseen armies of staff work behind the scenes. Laurie, the troubled narrator of Jenn Ashworth’s memorable novel Ghosted, works as a cleaner at a campus university, ‘always a strange world of its own’.

Funny novels about academics’ lives include the classic Lucky Jim and David Lodge’s Changing Places. In Luke Kennard’s The Answer To Everything, artist and serial almost-adulterer Elliott teaches at a university, though lack of application means he is barely clinging on.

For this year’s intake, who have already suffered two years of school disruption, here’s hoping their time at university runs smoothly.

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