Reading List: The Idiot

I have difficulty remembering things - what did I do on the weekend? What did I have for breakfast? I have no idea. Sometimes I think that Instagram and Twitter have broken my brain, and other times I think I am doomed to have early onset Alzheimer's. In spite of this, I started university 15 years ago, and I can remember the first week in technicolour...

Why I chose it

I am always on the lookout for campus fiction, a favourite of mine ever since I read Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures as an undergraduate student. I loved coming-of-age novels when I was coming-of-age, and I still do. (Perhaps because I am surrounded by my students bildungsromaning all over campus every day...).

My stolen summary

I find this book particularly hard to describe, so I actually have to steal two quotes that sum it up for me:

First, Miranda July for Penguin Random House: "I’m not Turkish, I don’t have a Serbian best friend, I’m not in love with a Hungarian, I don’t go to Harvard. Or do I? For one wonderful week, I got to be this worldly and brilliant, this young and clumsy and in love. The Idiot is a hilariously mundane immersion into a world that has never before received the 19th Century Novel treatment. An addictive, sprawling epic; I wolfed it down."

And second, Annalisa Quinn for NPR Books: "The Idiot replicates the feeling of those years when stories don't seem to match up with lived experience and it's not clear if it's your fault or the world's. Like that time, The Idiot is both boring and strangely intense, fraught and apparently meaningless, confusing and inevitable, endless — and over in a moment."

  • The writing is bizarre but captivating
  • Magnetic protagonist, for me, anyway
  • I work with university students every day, and yet I never wish to be young again. Life is so much easier at 34 than it was at 18 or 19 - I don't need to repeat that time, as much as I mourn the loss of my unlined, perpetually dewy skin. That said, this book made me wistful for those times, so ripe with possibility, so electric with 4 a.m. adventures
  • Ivan is obviously a POS, and I grew weary of it. I know I'm meant to meditate on the ill-advised loves I entertained in late adolescence, but I found him forgettable and annoying in equal measure
  • Lots of things happen, but nothing in particular happens. It's the life of a student, mundane, yet everything is new. I would imagine that those of us who had the privilege of spending time in post-secondary education would know this feeling. Is this a con? I don't know now. 


Tough one. I will probably never read it again, but it's the kind of book that you want to buy, then keep on your shelf until the perfect person comes along, and you pass it on to them. Buy, I think.