As the end of the Millennium approaches, Isla Brown, Student Support Officer at St Ethelburgaâ€™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 Aefflaedâ€™s. And the staff are a whole lot worse.
Isla, who has set her sights on the principal of St Aefflaedâ€™s, is, in turn, pursued and then sexually harassed by her own college principal. It doesnâ€™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 studentsâ€™ welfare, and the lives of her colleagues.
Bug is flagged as a â€˜campusâ€™ 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 â€“ 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 â€˜town and gownâ€™ are very clear â€“ until the characters start blurring them. Isla, herself, is the person whose role sits somewhat in the middle.
The setting is strong â€“ the traditional and elite college life being nibbled at the edges by the need to move with the times â€“ and the characters largely engaging and, in some cases, all too realistic. Itâ€™s not just a description of campus life either, there are several dimensions to the plot that finally come togetherâ€¦in time to face the now-fabled Millennium Bug.
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