Isla Brown is the Student Support Officer at St Ethelburga’s College forming part of the fictional Newburgh University. Bug, Judith Wharton’s debut novel, loosely follows a few months in the life of Isla, focussing on her romantic life and the various worries and concerns she must deal with from the students.
The blurb promises a novel of tension and intrigue as the cast of characters head toward the millennium, asking, “how many will have to die to bring the lovers together?” There is early mention too of the millennium doomsdayers and the titular ‘bug’ who might just get them all, however little of this is ever explored in full and the novel peters out with more questions than answers.
The myriad of characters are thankfully helpfully listed on the opening page. Many of them are extremely likeable and have inventive and interesting backstories which are tantalisingly waved in front of the reader but never fully developed. The reader wants to know what happens with each of them next, but, it is hard to follow the many storylines going on at once and it isn’t clear what the point of most of them (character or storyline) is.
There are some lovely descriptions and the setting is so charmingly evoked that it is easy to imagine walking round the University town which has many parallels with its real life counterpart. Unfortunately there is just too much going on – too many unnecessary sub-plots, too many irrelevant characters, too many unanswered questions. The blurb paints a picture of a gothic novel of crime and suspense but the content seems to bear little resemblance.
That said the reader does want to keep turning the pages hoping that as the book progresses the loose ends will be tied up and the reasons behind certain plot points will become clear. Regrettably the story ends feeling as if it has only been half told.