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Fiction Literary

Higher Ed

A Novel

by (author) Tessa McWatt

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Mar 2015
Literary, Urban Life, Contemporary Women
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2015
    List Price

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In her most powerful and resonant novel to date, the acclaimed writer Tessa McWatt explores the ways in which people find love in desperately uncertain times.

Against a backdrop of 21st-century east London, where cuts and job crunches and unemployment are ugly, unrelenting realities, three very different love stories bloom. Francine, a university administrator who firmly believes that she is unattractive and unloveable, is unhinged after witnessing a tragic road accident. Cracked open, she is also on the verge of realizing that she is worth something to someone. Meanwhile Robin, a young film prof who Francine has lusted after from afar, is awoken to beauty in the form of the young Polish waitress in his local café, who cannot believe that he might love her back. And then there is Olivia, Robin's charismatic student, a mixed race girl growing up in a racist household, who thought she'd been abandoned by her father, Ed. Conducting research for a law school project on what society owes the dead, she stumbles across him working in a council office, where he's in charge of burying the indigent and unclaimed. Soon she realizes that Ed is not the kind of man who would abandon anybody.
     Thoughtful, poignant and profound, Higher Ed is a brilliantly observed novel that illuminates the human capacity for love, and lingers in the soul long after the last page is read.

About the author

Tessa McWatt is an acclaimed author whose work includes novels for adults and young people. Her fiction has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the City of Toronto Book Awards and the OCM Bocas Prize. Most recently, she published the novel Higher Ed and co-edited Luminous Ink: Writers on Writing in Canada with Rabindranath Maharj and Dionne Brand. She is the author of the forthcoming Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging, an analysis of the race debate from a personal perspective. She is also a librettist and professor of creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Where Are You, Agnes? is her first picture book.

Tessa McWatt's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“She has a stirring ability to echo the pull of tides and the tremors of the earth within the human body.” —The Globe and Mail
“A vibrant, beating heart of a book. Characters come together from vastly different backgrounds, united by longing and displacement and bursting forth in McWatt’s vital, witty, raw prose.
A book that contains multitudes, Higher Ed is less about how we are different than the ways in which we are the same. Sly, brainy, and razor-sharp, McWatt’s writing is unmissable.” —Grace O’Connell, author of Magnified World
“A finely tuned sense of sadness and quiet despair haunts all of the characters in Tessa McWatt’s tenderly observed view of East London life.” —Atom Egoyan
“Wonderful narration. Wonderful map of the archipelago. Embark and discover it!” —John Berger

“A wryly passionate, slyly political and engrossing concatenation of London lives, that only a Londoner by choice could have written.” —China Mieville
“The search for love is at the heart of Tessa McWatt’s work as a writer, and so it is in Higher Ed. Her characters are by turns wise and foolish, hopeful and sometimes—movingly—so very near defeat. But they all continue to search. In dark times, they want to walk to the light. We watch them and hope that they make it.” —Ronan Bennett

“McWatt’s tangled tale of five flawed, frustrating people is . . . so vividly written that you’ll miss hanging out with her characters well after you’ve finished the book.” —ELLE Canada

“Tessa McWatt’s sixth novel is a captivating jumble of voices belonging to a cast of diverse characters.” —Dana Hansen, Quill & Quire

“[M]agnetic. . . . Kind to her characters, but never blind to their iffy choices or restrictive circumstances, McWatt gradually grants the members of this loosely interrelated tribe some respite. Her generous vision suggests that people might not get exactly what they desire, but, since the world’s a huge, complicated place, it may provide them with something else, something ultimately beneficial.” —Maclean’s

“[S]incerely affecting.” —Carly Lewis, National Post

“[Higher Ed] combines campus novel (historically a distinctly white-male genre) with a Zadie Smith–like sense of a thoroughly multicultural London. . . . McWatt drags the genre into the twenty-first century. . . . [T]his is a world where tenure is endangered, and [McWatt] satirises with sharp wit the precariousness of academic life.” —The Sydney Morning Herald

“Tessa McWatt brings the traditional campus novel bang up to date. . . . Celebrating the diversity of contemporary Londoners, McWatt’s polyphonic novel owes an obvious debt to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, but nevertheless she manages to make this exuberant but bittersweet tale something all of her own.” —Lucy Scholes, The Guardian

“The diversity of voices in the novel is impressive. . . . Each character’s story comes with its own richness.” —Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This (blog)

Other titles by Tessa McWatt