David Lodge first came on my
radar in 1984 with the publication of Small World, a send-up of academia. The middle-part of a trilogy bookended
by the earlier Changing Places (1975) and the concluding Nice Work (1988),
these comic novels examine the author's "little postage stamp of native soil" in the Midlands of England known
fictionally as the City of Rummidge (Birmingham) at large, at whose epicenter lies the University's Department of English
I was able to catch up with him at a book signing in DC in 2004 for his promotion of Author, Author,
a novel about the end of the life of Henry James. He did not tour the States for his recently published Deaf Sentence
(2008), a fictionalized and humorous treatment of his own hearing loss, which is most poignant, and I was sorry to learn
The Practice of Writing (1997) consists of a series of essays regarding the practical details of
the craft, witnessed through his own novels and those of his time. Part one is a roundup the usual suspects, the pieces
typically occasioned by a release of a biography or an invited paper. After treating the perennial bugbear of all authors
- how much is true or autobiographical (a qualified none, but a knowledge of his life informs his fiction) - he examines a
number of authors who have weighed large on the British literary scene, some who have influenced his own writing (mostly Roman
Catholic and Irish as he is, in part), some who struggles he could relate to, and some he knew quite well. Included
are Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Green, James Joyce, Anthony Burgess, and Vladimir Nabokov. Mr.
Lodge lifted more than a few pints with Greene, Amis, and Burgess, and shares many delightful anecdotes of those characters.
As both a scholar and a creative artist, Mr. Lodge has a unique perspective on the world of literature from
the highly theoretical - he is or was a "publish or perish" literary critic and has the jargon and ideas down pat
- to aesthetic, where his take on authorial intentions and methods is always insightful. He has an engaging voice, witty,
even-handed, and light; and it is exhibited in nonfiction as well as the fictional works.
Part two deals with matters
closer at hand for readers of this site: "Mixed Media" treats his entry into the world of the performing arts.
(Along the way, he hilariously deconstructs both post-modern architecture and a short revue or sketch by Harold Pinter called
Last to Go (1959).) He discusses the differences in storytelling approaches for the novel, screenplay, and
stage play, using examples from his own writing. Mr. Lodge wrote the adaptation of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit
(whose performance by the great Paul Scofield along with the award-winning production you'll want to put in your
video queue) and adapted Nice Work for the BBC. He discusses the technical and
creative difficulties he encountered working in the media; while logistics, shooting, scheduling constraints place a burden
on the writer, the politics and people figure in a major way. When he gets into the minutia of mounting his own original
theater piece, The Writing Game, with a diary account of the run-up to opening night and subsequent later productions,
you'll wonder why (or how) anyone could seriously consider working collaboratively. Doubtlessly, theater folk ask
themselves that everyday. Certainly not for the faint of heart or pocketbook.
seven of Mr. Lodge's novels, just starting Paradise News, and I can highly recommend his work to those who enjoy
social satires with strong original characterizations. While many of them involve the university setting and others
concern the writing life, they all feature culture clashes - indeed Mr. Lodge strikes me as much a practicing anthropologist
as a writer. And when those worlds collide, good things happen. Do yourself a favor and make his acquaintance.
Copyright by John F. Glass September 5, 2009
All rights reserved