Book: While Herding Cats
This week’s campus novel is “While Herding Cats” by A.C. Roberts. Set in the 1980s, the book tells the story of Richard, a thirty-five year old lecturer in law at the fictional Foxton University, set in the Midlands. Richard, married with two children, embarks on a tour to Edinburgh with his casanovaesque colleague Nicholas – and ends up (almost) committing adultery with a former student. After his return to the university, Nicholas is promoted to dean – and what unfolds is a tale of blackmailing, backstabbing colleagues, professors who refuse to work, academic egos – and private separation.
While sometimes enjoyable to read, I could not warm up to the story very much. The book is very much a chronological recount of the events unfolding, which left me wondering frequently what the significance of some of the story lines is. Almost the entire first half is devoted to building up to and telling the story of the trip to Edinburgh. Although this is a pivotal event in the later part, I felt it was long winded and somewhat cumbersome to read. The second part of the book was significantly more interesting, although suffering from the chronological style and the mono-faceted, slightly stereotypical description of some of the characters. Overall, the book felt to me very much like someone telling a personal story – with little thought about presentation and style. That said, some of the parts were well written, and I did overall enjoy reading the book – although much less than, for example, David Lodge’s book or “A Campus Conspiracy“, which also dealt with academic egos and infighting at universities.
Interestingly, the book is, similar to A Campus Conspiracy, much cheaper when bought electronically – with the Kindle edition priced at £1.54 and the paperback edition £7.99.