Back-to-school: Books on University Life
As going back to school and university looms, we take a look at some of the best novels on university life!
One book that details life at university is Donna Tartt’s classic ‘The Secret History’. Based within the elegant fictional Hampden College, it represents university as a place only for the privileged, where intellect and style is placed higher than any other personal quality. The protagonist Richard Papen strives to become part of an elite and mysterious group of students who hold themselves higher than the rest of the student body. But it’s this wish to leave what he sees as his shameful working class roots that plunges him into a murder investigation, showing the pitfalls of trying to develop a false personality for yourself at university.
However, there are many other books that steer clear away from this portrayal of dark academia and isolation to show the lighter side of university. David Nicholls’ love story ‘One Day’ starts on the night of graduation at Edinburgh University for polar opposites Dexter and Emma. Both reflect on their time at university and their futures to come. Little do they know in that moment, but the friends they have made at university will reappear again and again throughout the novel, showing how long-lasting and important these friendships and relationships can be.
Another book that details a university romance is of course Sally Rooney’s 'Normal People'. The novel displays how traits which may make you ‘geeky’ and unpopular at school are the sort of unique things that allow people to make such an array of interesting friends at university. Likewise, being good-looking and sporty might be enough to shoot you into being the most popular person at school, but at university people seem to look more for genuine rather than surface-level attributes. Also, the 2020 TV adaptation was hugely popular, showing how Rooney’s material resonates with so many people and taking them back to the nostalgia surrounding this time in your life.
The vast array of depictions of university life in fiction echo the real life experiences: everyone’s is different. Would you add any more campus books to this list? How do they portray life at university/college?