Bug – Judith Wharton

As the end of the Millennium approaches, Isla Brown, Student Support Officer at St Ethelburga’s College, faces a challenging term.

The students have the usual crises (and then some): mental health issues, family problems, chaotic love lives, and the ongoing rivalry with their rival college, St Aefflaed’s. And the staff are a whole lot worse.

Isla, who has set her sights on the principal of St Aefflaed’s, is, in turn, pursued and then sexually harassed by her own college principal. It doesn’t take her long to discover the man is actually a dangerous imposter.

Isla is left trying to sort out a trio of problems: her own, her students’ welfare, and the lives of her colleagues.

Bug is flagged as a ‘campus’ novel, set as it is in the fictional University of Newburgh, in a northern town. Campus, or academic, novels date back to the 1950s (think Kingsley Amis or David Lodge) and as such are ensemble pieces – there is often a vast array of characters crossing staff and student bodies. Bug is no different, and whilst the characters are all distinct, it did take me a while to get them all straight. Wharton has helpfully included a list at the beginning of the book, for easy reference.

Newburgh is definitely more Oxford/Cambridge than red-brick university and the hierarchies between faculty and students and the so-called ‘town and gown’ are very clear – until the characters start blurring them. Isla, herself, is the person whose role sits somewhat in the middle.

The setting is strong – the traditional and elite college life being nibbled at the edges by the need to move with the times – and the characters largely engaging and, in some cases, all too realistic. It’s not just a description of campus life either, there are several dimensions to the plot that finally come together…in time to face the now-fabled Millennium Bug.

Available from Amazon UK in hard copy and eBook.


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