The Truants is a novel about discovering the cost of being someone different, someone more noticeable, when you’ve always blended in. Jess Walker is thoroughly middle class, mostly forgotten in her large family, and about to start university. She chose her university due to an obsession with an academic there, the distinctive Lorna Clay, whose famous book ‘The Truants’ is about writers having to push themselves to the limits of life. Once there, she makes a close group of friends and their lives tangle around each other’s and Lorna’s until tragedy forces Jess to question what she thought the plot of their lives was.
In some ways, this has all the elements of a campus novel with tinges of thriller: obsession, love affairs, intellectual excitement, and the lingering comparison of real lives to fictional ones. In the case of The Truants, the latter is mostly around Agatha Christie and her works, which forms a fitting lens for Jess to attempt to untangle what is happening, though the novel itself isn’t really a murder mystery. There are clichés, but also a satisfyingly weaving narrative that isn’t afraid to leave the campus. It is a novel built around ambiguity and interpretation, and particularly by the end it isn’t clear to what extent if any Jess is an unreliable narrator, especially as she becomes interested in unreliable narrators in Christie’s writing.
The Truants will draw in fans of campus novels (and it is always exciting to read new British ones, with more familiar university experiences), though it might not be exactly what some people expect. The use of Agatha Christie as the academic focus is a nice touch which makes you tempted to pick up some of the novels mentioned in the book and the novel has enough plot to keep readers gripped, though the characters themselves are often left purposefully unexplained.