The paper is white

Daniel Soar

  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
    Cape, 425 pp, £16.99, June 2017, ISBN 978 1 910702 69 7

If you’re 18, without any experience of your chosen branch of higher education, your best hope of advancement – of learning to think like your elders – is to listen to your teachers, taking diligent notes. But that’s no good if what they’re saying makes no sense. Selin, the narrator of Elif Batuman’s novel, who is settling in to her first year at Harvard, understands everything she is told but still can’t help finding it all totally perplexing: ‘Everything the professors said seemed somehow beside the point.’ She applies to join a freshman literature seminar, and gets called to an interview, but can’t quite focus on the conversation, partly because she has a terrible cold, and while sneezing and nodding politely finds herself desperately scanning the room for anything resembling a box of tissues:

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