Friday, October 9, 2015

At the University: Parting Breath and Lucky Jim

As fate would have it, I am reading two books both of which take place on British university campuses. Just the tales to cuddle up with as the days are beginning to cool down.

The first is Parting Breath (1977) by Catherine Aird. This was next in line in her series that I am reading featuring Detective Chief Inspector C.D. Sloan and his ever clueless Constable Crosby. It is a very literary mystery and part of the plot (very minor) involves a stolen letter that supposedly revealed the mystery lover of Jane Austen. The main mystery has to do with the murder of one of the students - an ecology major. The background to the the murder investigations (yes, there is more than one death on this lively campus) is a sit-in being staged by students in protest of the expelling of a popular student. Maybe not expelled - I think it's called being sent down. Anyway, there is plenty of mayhem in the main quadrangle. 

I find the late-night conversations between Sloan and his boss Superintendent Leeyes to be very funny. Leeyes has a penchant for taking adult education classes and uses his fractured knowledge to confuse and confound poor Sloan who is trying his best out in the world of crime. 

Image result for lucky jim

The second book is quite different: Lucky Jim (1954) by Kingsley Amis. This classic campus book (recently reviewed quite nicely by Kat at mirabile dictu) follows the path through academe trudged by Jim Dixon and is filled with cranky dons and charmless women. Quite a comic treat.

The thing about Parting Breath is that Ms. Aird mentions Lucky Jim along with Zuleika Dobson (a university novel by Max
Beerbahm), Hamlet, Alice in Wonderland, P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde, and two Wordsworths, William and Dorothy.

I'll bet she had a fun time working all those literary references into the story.

The campus book I remember best is A Separate Peace (1959) by John Knowles that takes place at an American prep school.  Another favorite, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934) by James Hilton, is set at a British boarding school. 

I would love to spend a toasty fall semester at a university if only I could just attend class and not have to be bothered with homework. For now, though,  I will have to be content reading about the academic life.

Any campus books you would care to recommend?


  1. I'll have to think about this...does a Gervase Fen book count? I've only read The Moving Toy Shop, but I have The Case of the Gilded Fly on hand.

    1. I think an Oxford don/detective should surely count, Kathy! I believe I started reading 'The Moving Toy Shop' but got distracted and didn't finish it. I will have to put Mr. Fen back on my list.

  2. If you haven't read R. F. Delderfield's To Serve Them All My Days, you must...sort of an inflated Mr Chips blown up and set later. (Why yes I do own three copies because my DD obliterated one with frequent rereadings and therefore we each needed our own good copies....)

    Gone To Her Death by Jill McGown, third in the Lloyd and Hill series takes place at a boarding school. Great series, BTW.

    The Dalziell and Pascoe series by Reginald Hill weaves stories set at Ellie Pascoe's university into several of the books....

    1. At one time I did have a copy of 'To Serve Them All My Days' but must have let it go long ago as I now cannot even remember if I read it! Yikes. I can still picture the cover though...

      I am not familiar with Ms. McGown but I looked her up and her books look to be just my cup of tea. I love a good British mystery. Thanks for the tip on her.

      I am a big fan of Reginald Hill. It has been a long time since I cavorted with Pascoe and Dalziell and I haven't watched the television series. I will have to revisit them.

      Thanks for wonderful suggestions!

  3. Philip Roth's The Human Stain is set on a campus and features a respected professor who is destroyed by accusations of political incorrectness.Several of the novels of Alison Lurie are campus comedies. She knew the field because she was an academic herself.

    1. Hi, Nancy. I am not familiar with 'The Human Stain' but it sounds like a good addition to the list. And I may be the only person on the planet who hasn't read any of Alison Lurie's books. I see she has one titled 'The Language of Houses'. Not a campus book but I do like reading about architecture. And, I will give her campus comedies a try as well.

      Thanks for your great suggestions!

  4. Belle, I enjoyed this post so much! I enjoyed a few of Catherine Aird's books years ago, but have no idea which I've read, which is so often the case with mysteries! There's something about academic mysteries. I can't wait to read Aird. I'm glad you enjoyed Lucky Jim! And I do want to read the Beerbohm, too. So many good suggestions here.

    1. Thanks, Kat. I was reading Aird's book when 'Lucky Jim' arrived. I had to laugh that she referenced it in her book. She is quite enjoyable to read. I don't always care about whodunnit, but her writing and the situations are fun.