'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.'
'The ecosystem of a London university is more of a jumping-off point than the focus of this frequently bleak take on the city and the scattered lives straining for purpose within its melee … In a manner reminiscent of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, a senseless accident brings the disparate lives [of McWatt's characters] together … Authentic.'
Catherine Scott, TLS
'Situated within a select group of metropolitan-England-today novels that range in outlook from despairing to hopeful (Stephen Kelman's Pigeon English, Gautam Malkani's Londonstani, Margaret Drabble's The Radiant Way, Zadie Smith's NW, and Jackie Kay's Trumpet), Higher Ed stands in the sensible middle. As though motivated by E.M. Forster's dictum to 'only connect', the five key characters of McWatt's magnetic novel are muddling through ... McWatt conjures a familiar world of uncertainties, in which fallible but striving individuals find basic needs — security, community, bonds — difficult to attain. 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.'
'Wonderful narration. Wonderful map of the archipelago. Embark and discover it!'
'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.'
‘Written in a captivating polyphonic style reminiscent of Zadie Smith's White Teeth and NW, Tessa McWatt's big-hearted novel animates her five characters effortlessly.’
Quill & Quire
'I enjoyed Higher Ed hugely. The writing was finely tuned and the characterisation sharply focused. As vibrant as the city it depicts.'
Jonathan Kemp, author of London Triptych
'Tessa McWatt's Higher Ed is 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.'
‘Higher Ed injects a welcome dose of diversity into a tale about universals: love, loneliness and the search for belonging. It revels in the collision of two hitherto distinct genres: the campus novel and the multivoiced immigrant saga set in London's gritty fringes … [McWatt] pushes at the boundaries of what we've come to expect from stories about universities, about London and the uncertain times in which we live.’
Trilby Kent, Globe and Mail
Carly Lewis, National Post
'If you want a novel to get truly stuck into, Tessa McWatt’s Higher Ed is an unflinching look at the impact of public spending cuts on a down-and-out London university … Rather like a grittier version of John Lanchester’s Capital [Higher Ed is] a story about the challenges and quirks of urban living … McWatt brilliantly and sympathetically contributes to the conversations being had all around contemporary London.'
Running in Heels
'Set at a fictional east London university, Higher Ed paints a picture of the city that is both realistically multicultural and, from its academics to waitress characters, realistically insecure. Wry and funny, evoking a world you’ll recognise, Higher Ed should appeal to fans of Zadie Smith and Monica Ali.'
‘[C]ombines campus novel (historically a distinctly white-male genre) with a Zadie Smith-like sense of a thoroughly multicultural London … satirises with sharp wit the precariousness of academic life.’
Cameron Woodhead, The Age
‘Five sympathetic characters blunder and blag their way through demanding periods of their lives. Loneliness, guilt and looming penury drive each of them into a quirky melee of sometimes weird but always enticing decision-making and action-taking … Higher Ed resounds with the delightful clang of clumsy truth.’
Joseph Crilly, Irish Times
‘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.’
‘The diversity of voices in the novel is impressive … Each character’s story comes with its own richness.’
Kerry Clare, Pickle Me This