AFTER ANATOMISING REAGAN-ERA New York (The Bonfire of the Vanities) and the ascendant New South (A Man in Full), Tom Wolfe devotes his third novel to a fictional university in Pennsylvania. A lesser challenge? Far from it. For this is not only a rare instance of campus fiction that concentrates on the students (most, as the work of author-academics or writers in residence, is inevitably don-fixated): it also entails a remarkable double leap across genders and generations in order for the 73-year-old novelist to inhabit the mind and body (and indeed clothes, invariably meticulously described) of his eighteen-year-old heroine.
Charlotte Simmons is a hyper-bright, hyper-naive Dixie chick from North Carolina mountain country, who finds everything about Dupont University - mixed dorms, the amount of swearing, boozing and sex, her snobby, bitchy roommate - shockingly at odds with her expectations of an Ivy League place of learning. Rivals for the