The Semester of Our Discontent - Cynthia Kuhn

I received a free copy of this book through Murder by Death and instaFreebies. Thank you!


The blurb of this novel sounded promising: a murder mystery set in academia, focusing on Lila Maclean, a young professor embarking on her first job in the field. When one of her colleagues turns up dead and another is attacked Lila starts investigating the crimes while also trying to dodge suspicions that she may be more involved than she lets on.


Unfortunately, although I enjoyed bits here and there, this book just didn't work for me. My main issue was with the writing itself and the protagonist's voice, which didn't flow naturally and often felt clunky and overwrought. Since the book is written in the first person, it's also hard to escape.


When Lila describes her actions, for example, she will say things like, "After I waved goodbye to [a friend], I turned to proceed up the short walkway to my house" or "I was comforted by the sight of individuals scattered around the steps of various university buildings".


For such a down to earth, Girl Next Door with a PhD character, it seemed out of place. And it's not just her—it's everywhere. I am certainly no stranger to polysyllabic extravaganzas, but there is a time and a place. Meanwhile, in this novel, the word choices seemed to be all about evoking an air of erudition without actually being meaningful or necessary, and they jar even more when Lila's narration is extremely flippant or casual elsewhere in the text.


Lila admits as much about halfway through. When she is asked how she likes her new job she thinks to herself:


There was something welcoming about her, as if we'd been friends for years—probably the reason I said it was "a bit scary" instead of something more formal and appropriate for a new professor.


The whole text is playing dress-up in a similar way, using language as a pretension rather than a tool.


There were aspects I liked, though. More than one professor is casually queer, and I enjoyed Kuhn's take on academic politics. I also kept misreading the novel's title as "The Semester of Our Disco Tent" which cheered me up whenever the writing got me down. 


Read in February 2017.