Book Review: Bill Smith Goes to College by David Stag

Ah, the university life (or college life to the Americans). I went as a mature student so I didn’t have the wild parties, the “Halls of Residence” experiences and living in a country with Frat and Sorority houses, going into the book I thought that most of the culture and the humour would be lost on me. Certainly, I could relate to some of it from friend’s experiences and things that go on around a university campus but no matter… as a university graduate I hoped to enjoy most of this anyway.

I imagine that most of those who stay in halls / dorms had a door to their room, even if they had trouble getting it open sometimes they actually had a physical door to open? Poor Bill Smith doesn’t – as a Fresher he has the worst room in the dorms and anyone and everyone can use his crockery, his cutlery etc – but at least some of them have the courtesy to wash up what they use.

Then he is told about the secret “sexual harassment” laws. In this co-ed dorm men and women share everything and if one woman doesn’t like the look of you… well you might end up breaking one of the many laws. If you don’t do class reading for a class that hasn’t actually started yet… you’re on the fast track to failing your degree. Students protest and if you want to join a protest, you can! There are many angry students around campus ready to get angry at… whatever the university hasn’t actually done yet but will most probably do soon.

Darkly humorous, part parody and part serious look at university life, bureaucracy and education in general (including direct parody of the peculiarly American phenomena of Majors and Electives), Bill Smith Goes to College is “college humour” in the tradition of things like American Pie, but without the puerile slapstick comedy, fart jokes and sex obsession. it is a more mature humour and early on we are treated to a Catch-22esque Philosophy lecture, which I found as intellectually confusing as hilarious. The book is funny without being overly silly and familiar and without feeling clichéd or just a little bit done before. There is more Catch-22 in the form of which degree to take and how they are structured. I won’t give it away, but the whole process of what classes you can and can’t take based on which Major you are doing was easily the best running gag in the book.

Towards the end the book takes an intriguing and unexpected twist. I won’t reveal any details but if your interest is starting to wane at this point, then you might find your interest piqued once more.

It is a short novel, some 55,000 words long but feels to be about the right length and is well-paced. It is well written, and though I spotted a few typos, they are few and far between, which is pretty good going. These could be corrected with a quick edit.

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