Book Review – Campusland by Scott Johnson

books, reviews

cover160389-medium5_star_rating_system_1_star As you know, I’ve been trying to get my way through all of the NetGalley books I’ve had waiting on my shelf for months. I always feel really guilty when I go on a requesting binge and then buy a load of new books to read. Plus, I have my ratio to think about. I requested Campusland because it sounded fun. It’s almost impossible to not think about Animal House in this situation. Which is both a good and a bad thing I guess. When you’ve already been lucky enough to watch the best college-based comedy we’re ever likely to see, it means nothing else will compare. But it also means you’re willing to try and find the next one. So, when I saw Campusland on NetGalley I couldn’t resist giving it a go. I should have known better. I really should have known better. It’s what I go through with psychological thrillers every time. I expect something new and different but just end up angry and full of regret. Shame I’ve got nobody but myself to blame.

Campusland promises to be a hilarious and brutal look at an Ivy League style college. It is set in the fiction college of Devon University over the space a school year. We see how the time passes for a small group of students and faculty. The book is narrated from the point of view of the well-meaning old Dean, a passionate English professor, a bored freshman social media star, a group of fraternity bros, and a political activist wanting to shake everything up. The book discusses all of the major social topics of the day in a way that the author is keen to remind us is both realistic and really funny. And he really means it. It’s just ufortnuate that it’s not actually true. Well, at least the funny bit. I can’t really speak for the state of American higher education establishments. But, still, I have my suspicions that a lot of this is hyperbole coming from a place of bitterness.

The narrative to Campusland is what I would describe as very thin. It plays out more like a television series than a book.  We experience lots of little episodes that all culminate in one big finale. There are lot of jumps in time and not a lot of development. And, crucially, not as many jokes as Scott Johnson would have you believe. Devon is presented as one of those politically correct and “woke” colleges where they are worried about offending everyone and teach their first years boys about consent on their first day. All the students are the kind of people that journalists over the age of 40 would describe as “snowflakes” because they hate racism, sexual assault, and sexism. There is a lot of student protesting throughout this book but there is never a point when it presented as anything other than ridiculous. The students are ridiculous for protesting and the school is shown to be ridiculous for listening to them. Then there’s the over-exaggerated committee that ensures student welfare and equality. Rather than being a necessary thing it is written as a joke. A group of people out to cause problems over the smallest of matters.

But, the biggest problem I have with this book is the central storyline. A storyline which has a impact on every character we meet. Freshman student and socialite, Lulu Harris, isn’t sure why she went to university when she simply plans to become a star. But it looks good and she can sleep her way around campus at least. Until, after a one-night stand, she bashes her eye on a table and finds herself labelled as a victim of sexual assault. What happens next is a story in which Lulu, the slutty New York It Girl, makes a false rape claim against her Literature Professor, Eph Russell. A claim that is taken seriously by everyone but Lulu. It sees the new Dean for Equality set her sights on getting the innocent and sweet Eph sacked even once Lulu reveals the truth.

Again, this is supposed to be a funny story.  A young girl trying to get media attention though a silent protest that gains a lot of traction. A professor who did nothing wrong but keeps saying the wrong thing. And a woman who lets the power get to her head for acclaim amongst her peers. But what it actually does is give credence to the idea that girls simply cry rape when they regret having sex with someone. I don’t think the idea of sexual assault or fake claims of sexual assault are grounds for comedy but, of they were, this certainly wasn’t the way to do it. This is a vicious and toxic book that isn’t even funny enough to justify what it’s doing.

When you’re being insulting in a comedic sense there is a fine line between being funny and being plain mean. There is never a point in Campusland when Scott Johnson ever goes into being funny. This is the kind of awful frat boy humour that just misunderstands the people it’s making fun of. We hear feminists say things like “consent doesn’t matter if you’re a man” and push young girls into making rape allegations. This is the same kind of exaggerated bullshit that is being pushed in the media about millennials. When in actual fact, they’re a lot more tuned in and sensible. It just makes Johnson seem like a bitter old man who has decided younger generations aren’t worth listening to. It’s pathetic and I had a hard time finishing this book. And I say that not just because I found it offensive. It was also not very well-written and the characters were massively under-developed. They all had one trait and that was it. And they were all such lazy stereotypes. There was not one original or interesting idea in this entire book.

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