This is a guest post from Laura Oosterbeek. Laura is a Promiscuous Reader and Book Club Slut who spends her time biking around looking for sidewalk cats and browsing bookstalls. She is obsessed with Donna Tartt and drinks her coffee black. Originally from Aotearoa New Zealand, she lives in Cambridge UK.
Misty mornings, long nights, bikes, backpacks, and books. Autumn is the season of the student. Whether you’re a student in need of a fictional escape, a hopeful applicant longing to spend hours in a dusty library, or one who is nostalgic for the hallowed halls you left behind—these books are for you.
Possession by A.S. Byatt
I first tried to read Possession a few years ago, but I was too flighty and impatient for the carefully constructed prose and intertextual underpinnings of this novel. But this time around it was exactly those things that made me love it. The novel follows a pair of scholars uncovering the secrets of two Victorian poets, and a literary mystery turns into a treasure hunt. Possession perfectly articulates the obsession of academia.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
With wry wit and wisdom, Zadie Smith gives us a glimpse into the lives of a campus family. The father Howard Belsey, a Rembrandt scholar, is mortified when his eldest son falls for the daughter of his academic nemesis.
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
A recent addition to the campus canon, The Lesser Bohemians is a stream of consciousness novel about a young Irish girl beginning drama school in London. Difficult to get into, but easy to get lost in. It will have you gasping for air.
My Education by Susan Choi
The “young female student falls for older male college professor” trope is flipped on its head when graduate student Regina meets his beautiful and volatile wife. This book is sexy. But of course, sex is always complicated.
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
A young Turkish girl finds herself cold and alone at Oxford University. Captivated by the beauty, but suspicious of the people, she finds herself questioning her faith and femininity under the scrutinising gaze of an eccentric and rebellious professor.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Not usually included in ‘Campus Novel’ lists, but Murakami’s Norwegian Wood muses on the very real aspects of university life—loneliness, sexuality, and independence.
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
Author M.L. Rio is a graduate student and Shakespeare fanatic who also has an intriguing and witty tumblr. So when I saw she’d written a novel I knew I had to read it. If We Were Villains is centered around the fourth year drama students at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, and the drama within and without their academic pursuits. Riddled with quotes from the Bard himself, this book is sex, drugs, and Shakespeare.
The Likeness by Tana French
I’m not usually one for crime, but I found myself accidentally inking a library copy of The Likeness as I feverishly underlined page after page. It is set in a crumbling mansion—home to five literature PhD students—and the perfect scene for a crime. Tana French’s second novel reflects on the insular nature of academic life and the lengths one will go to to protect it.
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
Overshadowed by its older sibling (Man Booker Winner The Luminaries) Eleanor Catton’s debut novel is a dark echo of the classic coming of age novel. She writes about the rawness and readiness of growing up, and the undeniable power young people have over the world around them.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Ha. I bet you thought I had forgotten.
I could never forget the ultimate campus novel.
I first read The Secret History in my first semester of university, and I find myself returning to it every year when the leaves crunch underfoot and the mornings are darker. It’s books and bacchanalias, silks and wool, money and power and class, obsession and beauty and death.
It’s everything you could ever want in a book.
Go read it.