The University of Bliss

by Julian Stannard

British universities once enjoyed an enviable reputation. Then the political class introduced fees, and in came corporate fixers, accountants, branding experts, those who salivate before the market. Hardnosed managers cut posts and salaries: why not put those bumbling professors on zero-hour contracts and get them to do a vast amount of unpaid work?

Now in 2035 at the University of Bliss in the south of England, the dead hand of bureaucracy smothers all intellectual endeavour. An unashamedly corporate ideology holds sway, thinly veiled by ubiquitous rainbow washing and tokenistic gestures towards moral and spiritual values, the environment, and mental wellbeing. Cue for poets Tristan Black and Harry Blink and charming if duplicitous post-structuralist Humph Lacan to fight back. But is it too late to save the university?

The University of Bliss is a spoof, a satire, a cri de coeur—Evelyn Waugh on acid. And of course, any similarity to actual persons, living, dead, or merely soulless, is purely coincidental.

Notices

“Julian Stannard lampoons the pompous managerialism of university life with wry wit and mischievous topspin. This is a knockout satire of a dystopian present, and an inmate’s revenge, a last laugh.”

—Rónán Hession, author of Ghost Mountain

The University of Bliss is stunningly funny. Its witty, acerbic humour places it in a class well beyond the campus novels of the twentieth century. This is no revisitation of the 1960s; it is a revitalization in the terms of 2035, where gender non binary education is branded for sale to the socially disadvantaged. The familiar university hierarchy, vice-chancellor, dean, professor, is all there, but this is supplemented by a brilliant cast of consumer grotesques worthy of Charles Dickens each one of whom is struggling to make money out of their paying customers—the students. The characterisation is sharply observed and convincingly recorded; the narrative is mordant in such a way that image and idea tumble together in a vortex of comic misassociation. University life is infused with the ideas and dogmas of commercial speculation. A few brave souls rebel but are sent for rehabilitation. The brilliant and energetic surface of the novel floats bouyantly on the progressive depletion of academic integrity. The darkness is there but it never extinguishes the human vitality and the comic exuberance of this novel.”

—Roma Tearne, author of TRACe: The Museum of Memory

pub date: 2024-12-03