October 23, 2006

The first campus novel?

2 out of 5 stars

The Groves of Academe – Mary McCarthy

I struggled for ages to track down this book which is, arguably, the first campus novel and was very positively disposed towards it in principle. Liberal arts college in the US, 60s turmoil, lots of politics, undercurrents of sexual intrigue – can’t go wrong, I thought. Unfortunately, whilst it does have some merits, including what feels like an accurate portrayal of a largely second rate faculty torn apart by petty strife, it is really rather dull.

The first part of the book focuses on the main character, Mulcahy, and his attempts through bizarre means to secure an extension to his short term contract whilst he seeks both to create and deny a vaguely mysterious communist background. The second part covers an awful poetry conference at the college and the shenanigans around the poets and their sponsors.

It must all have seemed terribly daring and challenging at the time but, whereas Lodge’s campus novels really do stand the test of time, this one I am afraid does not.

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