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Book Reviews: University

It’s the first week of term- are you already dying to curl up with a good book? These two novels are partly set at university, but still provide some much-needed escapism. From twentieth century Oxford to icy Vermont, get ready to make some decidedly dangerous friends.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (BOOK ZONE 823.91 WAU)


 Castle Howard in Yorkshire stands in for the Brideshead estate in both the TV and film adaptations. Is this somewhere you’d like to spend your vacation? 

All the men in the Ryder family have been to Oxford, and they are all equally dull! Charles is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps: keep his head down, get a good degree, and only mix with the right kind of people. Within days, notorious eccentric Sebastian Flyte has vomited through Charles’ ground floor window. They form an unlikely friendship, regularly skipping lectures to picnic on strawberries and champagne.

Since Sebastian’s father ran away to Venice, his formidable mother has become deeply religious. Only his sister Julia loves Sebastian like Charles does: because of, not in spite of his strange behaviour. When Sebastian injures himself at the start of summer vacation he insists that Charles comes to stay at Brideshead, his huge ancestral home. It’s not long before their mother starts pressuring Charles to be a “good influence”- as well appearing wildly drunk in public, Sebastian has defied her by hanging out with openly gay students. He and Julia agree that it’s not right to keep Sebastian imprisoned, but they aren’t prepared to fight for his immortal soul. When Sebastian runs away, Charles and Julia fall out of touch. Years pass before she enters his life again, only to tell him that Sebastian hasn’t been seen in months. How much is Charles willing to throw away for his old friend?


Sebastian’s other old friend is Aloysius the teddy bear 

As he got older Evelyn Waugh became a Conservative and was violently opposed to social reforms like the NHS. Brideshead was supposed to be about the death of traditional Britain, but somehow manages to make Sebastian’s lifestyle look awfully tempting… Brideshead Revisited was filmed in 2008 and stars Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) as Sebastian, Matthew Goode (Watchmen) as Charles and Haylet Atwell (Captain America) as Julia. At just over two hours long, it can’t compete with the TV adaptation, which lasts for 659 minutes! Spend a marathon weekend in decadent Oxford with our box-set (BOOK ZONE 823.91 WAU)

fruit strawberries

Brideshead is best accompanied by strawberries and cream

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (BOOK ZONE 823.91 TAR)

ivy league

How much are you willing to share with your friends?

Richard Papen is significantly poorer than most students at his prestigious rural college. He somehow talks his way into an exclusive Greek class and becomes friends with the other chosen few. Charles and Camilla are beautiful and inseparable; Francis is closeted and highly-strung; Henry is an arrogant genius; Bunny is highly annoying! Unbeknownst to Richard and Bunny, the rest of group meet regularly to re-enact drunken, drug-fuelled Greek rituals (quite unlike your average toga party!) When Bunny discovers that one of their games has gone horribly wrong, the rest of the group decide to silence him.


Not pictured: Bunny and Richard

The Secret History was influenced by Brideshead, but while Charles has to wrestle with one unruly friend, Richard finds himself at war with five of them! Both Charles and Richard struggle to keep up with their wealthier peers, who act as if they are completely untouchable. They feel guilty when they cover for their friends, and even worse when they abandon them. It’s still easy to sense their excitement at their new surroundings and the social spheres their friends inhabit. Both stories are told in retrospect, their protagonists supposedly older and wiser. Still, they clearly don’t regret everything their younger selves got up to- their friendships, while destructive, are undeniably intense.

Check out Eleanor’s review of Starter for Ten here and find out about some more great university-themed reads. We’ve covered some library basics here, but staff in the Information Store are happy to help all year round.


Garrod, N Castle Howard – Yorkshire available at (accessed on 08/09/2015)

Photo of teddy bear available at (accessed on 08/09/2015)

Photo of strawberries available at (accessed on 08/09/2015)

Photo of Ivy League students available at (accessed on 08/09/2015)

Photo of The Pleiades by Elihu Vedder (1885) available at (accessed on 08/09/2015)


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