Degrees for Everyone

Last week I finished the novel Degrees for Everyone: the second time I’ve read it in recent years.  It’s a satricial look at the modernising agenda in many universities and, in particular, the way in which universities have been forced to become money-making institutions by people who, perhaps, fail to appreciate the value of academia.

The story is fairly funny, but the quality of the writing is a little suspect.  I lost count of the number of times that the evil Chancellor’s face ‘darkened’ as he became angry: at one stage I think it happened twice on the same page.  I don’t tend to blame the authors for this kind of laziness or indulgence (although the buck obviously does stop with them) – I blame poor editing.  Surely the editor’s job is avoid this kind of thing by reading the manuscript with clear eyes?

Sir Robert ‘Bob’ Jones is a bit of a legend, though.  If you aren’t a New Zealander you won’t have heard of him, but in the mid 1980s he used his self-earned property fortune to play the role of political maverick, setting up a political party called the New Zealand Party in response to then prime minister Rob Muldoon’s call for a snap election.  Although Jones’s party didn’t win any seats, it is often credited with the demise of Muldoon’s government because it split the vote fairly successfully.  This was obviously Jones’s intention: he disbanded the party soon after the 1984 election.

When I was a kid my mother had a couple of Jones’s books of letters.  They were comedy gold.  It seemed that he was the original smart-arse, always ready to write a good letter to a newspaper editor.  His wealth meant that he was the unwilling target of a lot of begging letters and in his books he would publish both the request and his (often incredibly rude by totally hilarious) replies.  Often, this would spark a furious response from the beggar and a long chain of correspondence would ensue.  Jones always got the last word, though.

Anyway, this novel was a very good idea and entertaining, but he could have done it better, I think.

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