With savage wit, intoxicating energy, and a fine-tuned ear for the absurd, Michael Hingston, books editor for the Edmonton Journal, drags the campus novel, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century with the Dilettantes, his debut novel. Published by Calgary’s Freehand Books this past September, Hingston’s debut novel is a story about The Peak: a university student newspaper with a hard-hitting mix of inflammatory editorials, hastily thrown-together comics and reviews, and a news section run the only way self-taught journalists know how—sloppily.
Alex and Tracy are two of The Peak’s editors, staring down graduation and struggling to keep the paper relevant to an increasingly indifferent student body. But trouble looms large when a big-money free daily comes to the west-coast campus, threatening to swallow what remains of their readership whole.
It’ll take the scoop of a lifetime to save their beloved campus rag. An exposé about the mysterious filmed-on-campus viral video? Some good old-fashioned libel? Or what about that fallen Hollywood star, the one who’s just announced he’s returning to Simon Fraser University to finish his degree?
About the Author
Michael Hingston (b. 1985) is the books columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Called “one of the sharpest young literary critics in this country” by 49th Shelf, his journalism has also appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Eighteen Bridges magazine, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. His fiction appears in the 40 Below Project (Wufniks). Born and raised in North Vancouver, Hingston now lives in Edmonton with his partner and two children. The Dilettantes is his first novel.
“I know the student newspaper world of which Michael Hingston writes very intimately—apparently, though, he knows it much, much better. Sharply funny, to say this portrait of undergraduate flailing and becoming hits close to home would be an understatement worthy of an angry, typo-laden letter to the editor.” – Charles Demers, author of The Prescription Errors
“The tribulations of a student newspaper staff fighting both market forces (a free corporate-owned rag threatens their fragile readership) and their own ongoing youthful identity crises are depicted with toe-curling immediacy — and hilarity — by a writer close enough to his characters’ ages that his viewpoint has the ring of lived truth.” Montreal Gazette, December 19, 2013.
The Dilettantes “may well be the Great Canadian Comic Novel.” Winnipeg Free Press, October 21, 2013.
“Campus novels are notorious for experimenting with life’s bigger issues within the petri dish of the university, but The Dilettantes isn’t just a microcosm of the world: it’s a microcosm of the media.” — The Georgia Straight, October 2, 2013.
“The Dilettantes hits home with campus novel tale: Former Peak editor Michael Hingston provides a snapshot into life at a university paper,” The Peak, September 30, 2013.
“The Dilettantes crackles with wit, humour and intelligence and is a terrific debut.” Edmonton Journal, September 12, 2013.
“Underneath the newspaper focus is a universal story of the student experience, and Hingston’s recollection of campus life is honest to a fault — from the residence kids who live in sweatpants to the pressures of getting laid before graduation… Full of characters that have likely played a supporting role in most of our own university or college experiences, it makes for a fully identifiable reading experience.” — The Gateway, September 11, 2013.
“[G]enuinely funny and clever . . . The author’s journalistic background and personal experience in the university newspaper world offers detail that does not feel researched so much as lived, and consistently rings true.” — The Winnipeg Review, August 29, 2013.
“University: a time for pulling all nighters as you rush to finish assignments, scrounging up enough money for tuition and of course, copious amounts of drinking. Or, if you work at the campus newspaper, it’s a time for staying up all night doing print layout, convincing campus businesses to pay for ad space — and plenty of drinking. That last part stays the same.
This is a world that Edmonton Journal books columnist and local author Michael Hingston knows all too well. In his debut novel The Dilettantes, he draws from his own experiences as both a student and a past volunteer and editor at The Peak, Simon Fraser University’s student newspaper, bringing readers into an aspect of university life that’s been surprisingly absent from past campus novels.
The Dilettantes is told through the lives of two editors at The Peak, Alex Belmont and Tracy Shaw. The two students work at the student run newspaper with a motley crew of other editors that are, as the title suggests, a group who somehow manage to do what they do without a speck of professional training. Learning as they go, the staff struggles to keep their beloved rag afloat while chasing down last minute stories and trying to come up with ways to beat their competition, the newly arrived Metro newspaper.
Hingston’s descriptions of life in The Peak office make up some of the finer points of the novel. Whether they’re realizing that their readers only pick up the paper for the comics section or they’re sizing up a new volunteer writer, unsure of whether he’ll turn out to be “an editor-in-training or a complete and utter timesuck,” Hingston captures the atmosphere of a campus newspaper perfectly with great flavour and humour. These moments provide windows into what life is like at a university newspaper, and Hingston hits these universal truths of student journalism so squarely on the head that they can’t help but provoke chuckles of recognition.
With the antics of the Peak staff at the forefront of the plot, it’s current and former student journalists who will understand this world best. And yet, The Dilettantes is a book that anyone who was once a student can relate to. Underneath the newspaper focus is a universal story of the student experience, and Hingston’s recollection of campus life is honest to a fault — from the residence kids who live in sweatpants to the pressures of getting laid before graduation.
The most truthful moments of all centre around Alex’s uncertainty about his impending graduation, when he’ll no longer be able to make excuses for his shortcomings and will soon “be held accountable for every wobble.” It’s here, towards the end of the book, that Hingston begins to do less recounting of what university life is like and more reflection on it, as he uncannily pinpoints the fears that come with leaving the sheltered walls of school. Full of characters that have likely played a supporting role in most of our own university or college experiences, it makes for a fully identifiable reading experience.
With his sharply worded observations and familiar campus adventures, Hingston keeps the story going at a brisk pace, capping off the novel with a particularly exciting scene that will make any once-student journalist remember why they got into writing in the first place. The only real issue with the book involves the endings of its two major plot points, the arrival of a competitor in the form of the free Metro newspaper and the news that a Hollywood celebrity has enrolled as a student, which seem to almost trail off without a full resolution. This misstep doesn’t take away from the overall effectiveness of the novel though, which will leave many readers catching glimpses of themselves at the flip of a page.
Hingston has attempted to capture the university experience through the eyes of students and the staff at a campus newspaper, and as someone who has a foot in both worlds, I can attest that The Dilettantes rings true in the best way.” — Alana Willerton, Managing Editor, The Gateway