Freshers by Joanna Davies

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Freshers by Joanna Davies

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Wild student romp in which everything that possibly could go wrong, does go wrong. Very readable, but quite traumatic!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press
ISBN: 978-1906784140

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Going to Uni is meant to be one of the best times of your life...that first taste of freedom from your family, learning independence, meeting new friends and discovering who you are. Oh, and a little studying of course! This book charts the first 'fresher' year of three students, Lois, Cerys and Hywel who are studying at Aberystwyth University during 1991/1992. I was interested because I did my first degree just a couple of years after this, and also I studied a post grad at Aberystwyth. Turns out this wasn't exactly a nice happy trip down memory lane however...

First of all, if your precious son or daughter is just about to leave for University then you probably shouldn't read this book! None of the three main characters complete their first year of studies, there is (as you'd expect) a lot of drinking to excess. There are also drugs. And sex. And marriage, adultery, suicide, abortions, attempted murder...This isn't for the faint-hearted, or the over-protective parents amongst you.

I did wonder a little who the intended audience are for the novel, since students now are out there experiencing it all for themselves already so probably won't want to read about it. Perhaps they're hoping to hook in people like me who think it might be a trip down memory lane, though it's a very traumatic first year for all three characters and not exactly representative of every one's student experience. (Well, I hope not!)

I liked how the book was split between the three different characters. They have all come from the same school to study in Aberystwyth, but they are all very different. Cerys is outgoing, confident, and a little bit slutty to be honest. Lois is a grade A student, a virgin, a 'good girl' to all intents and purposes, but she is best friends with Cerys and planning to share a room in halls with her, which is just asking for trouble. Cerys throws herself straight into student life, trying to win over a group of girls known as 'The Fat Slags' in the hall to get in with the in crowd, flirting with her lecturer and doing the bare minimum of studying. Lois isn't so sure about 'The Fat Slags', and she instead becomes friends with a mature student who introduces her to a local Welsh band, including their moody but attractive bass player... Hywel, meanwhile, is an evangelical Christian and although Lois does her best to help him along he struggles to find his place in the hall of residence and to reconcile his family's faith with this entirely new way of life that he begins to experience.

As I mentioned, all three fail to complete their first year for a variety of different reasons, although there's the hint of a positive ending with their future plans involving either starting again at another university, on a different course, or trying something completely new in London. There are lots of references and places named in Aber, but I felt sad that the town didn't get a better showing. It's such a beautiful place, I felt that all the sadness and trauma the three students experienced didn't reflect the Aber that I fell in love with whilst I was there.

Jo Davies originally wrote and published the novel in Welsh, and I did wonder at times if it had perhaps lost a little something in translation, even though it's her own translation and she added more to the English version of the book. I just felt that in places it was a little stilted, although I did think the characters were well formed and certainly interesting, although not terribly likeable. It's an easy read, and if you fancy a wander through the dark and dismal world of students going off the rails then this definitely one to try.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Mr Perfect by Joanna Davies.

If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy Psalm 119 by Heather McRobie.

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