Reading lists

The best campus novels in literature

University life has long provided fertile ground for novelists keen to capture a spirit of their times. From Philip Roth to Zadie Smith, these are some who did it best.

Image: Penguin
Image: Penguin

Whatever your age, there's something timelessly appealing about novels set on university campuses. Maybe it has something to do with the endless possibilities of youth – a short, unjaded period in life that we all experienced, students or not, where the future stretched out like a giant question mark snaking into the distance.

Or is it to do with the fascinating perspective of university lecturers, stuck in a very special circle of hell that Dante forgot to mention – the one where you grow older in a world where almost everyone else stays beautiful and under 21?

It could just be the atmosphere of university that lends itself so well to fiction: a seething hotbed of life, ideas and human folly where professors sleep with students, and sometimes even each other; where students engage in more acts of recklessness than (probably) at any other time in their lives; and where academics fall out in (sometimes) the pettiest of ways.

Whatever the reason, we have been blessed with fictional universities from across the literary spectrum. And here – from coming-of-age narratives to satires of academic life and campus murder-mystery – are some of the best.

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