Although Malcolm Bradbury maintains in his 'Author's Notes' that the novel is entirely
'inventions', it not only reflects the 1960s at British universities but it also calls forth the year 1968 at German
universities very vividly. Students and lecturers challenge all traditions and values of the past and everybody who appears
to be conservative is disqualified as reactionary.
Bradbury exposes these trendy lecturers and students, esp. those from the department of Sociology in an ironical,
and even satirical manner. They are so convinced of their Marxist ideology that everybody who opposes their
ideas is denounced as a fascist. So the student George Carmody is dismissed from the university because
he dared to expose Dr Howard Kirk's political bias of teaching and assessing students.
Howard Kirk is the main character in the story whose setting is the fictitious university of Watermouth and Kirk's home.
The action switches back and forth between these two places. Kirk's home is the venue for parties where professors as well as students
are invited. They do not only communicate academically but also sexually, as time has torn down
all barriers of decency and 'free love' is the embodiment of progressiveness. Sexual promiscuity is the name of the game.
Students appear at the Kirks' parties as bearded Jesus youths in combat wear, loon-pants or Afghan yak. Girls are dressed in caftans
and big boots and have plum-coloured mouths. Of course, they call their professors by their first names. Students have joined the Hare
Krishna community or are members of the Radical Student Alliance or the Revolutionary Student Front.
Classes typically deal with personal problems which are discussed, students may touch each other in
so-called self-therapies, they even might recount their last night's dreams etc. Bradbury makes fun of those
classes where the teacher, not wanting to direct the movement of mind unduly, will remain silent throughout the class,
awaiting spontaneous explosions of intelligence from his students; there are classes, indeed, where
the silence never gets broken.
As women's lib and co-determination are two of the main topics of the time, at Watermouth University even the tea-ladies
have now been entitled to full membership of department meetings (German schools can say hello...)with full voting rights.
When reading this novel, everybody who studied at university at the end of the 1960s will be reminded of
many things which he or she experienced him-/herself. One relives part of one's own life.