Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Academic Novels as Therapy

Randall Stephens

"He was so tired of this: this job search, this whole process emptying him out like a vast, brutal enema again and again," the hapless protagonist thinks to himself in Ian McGuire's raucous, delightfully funny academic novel Incredible Bodies (Bloomsbury, 2006). Morris Gutman, a 37-year-old deadender, waits in his car, in a cold sweat on a typically gloomy English day, before his interview with Coketown University. The school is something like an updated, slightly better off Rummidge from David Lodge's hilarious classic Small World. "How many interviews had he had over the last five years? He added them up - Eccles, Peterborough, Gwent . . . twenty-two. Twenty-two interviews. He needed to bring it to an end one way or another. It had to stop." The book's dark comedy is a great distraction from the toils of academic labor.

Academic novels are surely gazpacho soup for the sick academic soul. Served cold and with a side of schadenfreude, it's still weirdly therapeutic.

Will the wretched job market turn around any time this side of 2112? Maybe, as Audrey Williams June writes in the latest Chronicle. But in the meantime, if you're adrift in the uncertain seas of the market, try reading academic novels for a little help.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for some good tips Randall, I was just trolling Amazon for something for my sister's birthday - I'll get both the McGuire and the Lodge! (she shares my old enthusiasm for Lucky Jim, and I recently finished Lodge's Deaf Sentence, also a good read) Cheers, Petter

Randall said...

Thanks Petter. I'm always on the lookout for additional academic novels. I think there are quite a few out there that I don't know of.