Book Review: Campusland by Scott Johnston
Can we officially ban the phrase "bad review" and call it, simply, a "review?"
I talk more about the concept on my Instagram, but here, as promised, is my review for Campusland by Scott Johnston, which debuts on August 13, 2019.
“Joyous, fast and funny, Scott Johnston’s Campusland is a satiric howl at today’s elite educational institutions—from safe spaces to tribal infighting to the sheer sanctimony. A wickedly delightful novel that may remind you of Tom Wolfe and David Lodge.”
After reading that blurb, I was interested. I enjoy campus novels. I like dry humor, I like snark, and in most cases I appreciate people who push the envelope. But I thought Campusland tried to take on way too many topical issues using wildly unlikable characters who do terrible things.
There's a big cast of exaggerated characters in this book: a social justice warrior who speaks poetry (because writing it down would preserve it, and true poetry is fleeting.) An entitled millennial obsessed with appearances and making it big on social media. An old-timer who "doesn't get " the changing social landscape. A trust fund kid with nothing to do but smoke pot, stir up controversy, and rail against the man. And so on.
I have to admire Johnston for having the guts to poke fun at people from all walks of life. That's not easy to do in today's age. I was entertained by these caricatures at first and did laugh at some parts. But eventually the story just became uncomfortable to read. Because they're one-dimensional characters, there's nowhere for them to go. There's no heart underneath all the snark. And I get that this is satire so it parodies real life, but some of the actions these characters take just hit too close to home. I won't go into detail about the issues, but reread the character descriptions in the previous paragraph, and you can probably guess what some of them are.
Overall, I found some parts funny but most were super painful to read. Johnston nails the mannerisms and attitudes of his characters, but none of them really go through a character arc. Because there is a big cast of very different characters tackling a lot of issues, that’s where the problem lies. The focus is so scattered that no one really achieves anything in this book. I stuck it out until the end, hoping for the story to turn around, but it didn’t for me.
I already know that Campusland will get mixed reviews from people of all ages, with all kinds of political views, from all types of backgrounds. Maybe that’s what the author was going for. Still, I have to be honest in saying that this was not for me.
Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.