Lost in Static, by Christina Philippou, tells the story of a group of university freshers during their first year living away from the constrictions of the family home. As a parent of two students it made for disturbing reading, but it is a brilliantly constructed story that held my attention throughout.
There are four pivotal characters and the academic year is chronicled from each of their points of view. They arrive at halls on the first weekend of Fresher’s Week determined to engineer a new start, to put the preconceptions and expectations of those who have known them since childhood behind them. At university they can be themselves as they are now, freed from the judgements of those who regard them as their parents’ children rather than independent individuals.
Callum is handsome, public school educated, and eager to hide the fact that he has famous parents. Yasmine is blandly beautiful, interested in designer clothes, and appalled by the run down state of her new abode. Juliette has escaped the confines of her deeply religious upbringing but retains the guilt drummed into her since childhood. Ruby is eager to embrace her freedom, a sports fanatic who wishes to be regarded as more than just one of the lads.
The book opens with an incident that happens later in the year. Thus the reader knows that the nervous but excited first day students are going to encounter potentially deadly group tensions. They will develop as individuals but reinventing themselves is not as easy as some may hope.
In many ways this story plays on the stereotypical impression often portrayed of students. There is much socialising, heavy drinking and other mild drug taking. There are sexual encounters both desired and regretted. There is jealousy, the sharing of secrets, perceived betrayal. Each incident is related from the differing perspectives of each of the four hall mates.
The tension of these scenarios is maintained by taking the reader inside the heads of young adults burdened by their upbringing and battling conditioned insecurities. Unused to social freedom they turn to their newly found friends for support when problems occur, largely unaware that these friends are also struggling to cope. Narcissism and self entitlement lead some to attempt dangerous revenge on those they blame for thwarting the acquisition of what is coveted. There are few brakes applied on their behaviours.
Within the hothouse bubble of university life it is difficult to step back from the pack. Rumours must be lived with, adversaries faced. Issues are exacerbated when parents become involved.
This is a multi-layered story exploring nature, nurture and group dynamics within a social setting that has the potential to protect from class and culture yet which cannot prevent them insidiously leaking in. The assured writing keeps the reader’s attention focused as unsettling events unfold. Can anyone ever know what another is thinking within the privacy of their own head? How actions are making them feel and the reactions that will result? I found this an engaging and fascinating read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Urbane.