Friday, 29 May 2009

Reading books: David Lodge

Lodge's suburban upbringing in a traditional Catholic family in the austere conditions of postwar England is reflected in his early fiction. His first novel, The Picturegoers (1960), is a portrait of a Catholic family living in South London, and their daughter who has attracted the attentions of their undergraduate lodger. Ginger, You're Barmy (1962), his second novel, drew on his own experience of national service, while The British Museum is Falling Down (1965), a comic novel, is the story of a poor Catholic graduate working on his thesis in the Reading Room of the British Museum. Worried that his wife may be pregnant, he becomes involved in a series of adventures and meetings that parallel or parody episodes in the modern novels he is studying. Out of the Shelter (1970) begins with a child's experience of the Blitz and his rescue from an air-raid shelter, a formative experience which is developed as a metaphor throughout the book as the young boy matures into an adult.

Changing Places (1975), was Lodge's first book in a trilogy of campus novels. Inspired by his experience teaching in California, the novel centres on two academics: Englishman Phillip Swallow from the University of Rummidge in the West Midlands, and Morris Zapp, an American from the State University of Euphoria (California), and their participation in an exchange programme that sees them swap politics, lifestyles and wives. Small World (1984), the second book in the trilogy, develops Zapp and Swallow's story, while Nice Work (1988) completes the trilogy with the story of industrialist Vic Wilcox and his unlikely relationship with marxist, feminist and post-structuralist academic Dr Robyn Penrose. Small World and Nice Work were both shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction.

How Far Can You Go? (1980) and Paradise News (1991) both deal with the doctrinal changes and moral uncertainty which beset members of the Catholic church in the post-war period generally and the 1960s in particular. Therapy (1995) continues similar themes through the story of a successful sitcom writer plagued by middle-age neuroses and a failed marriage.

Ralph Messenger, the central character of Lodge's most recent novel, Thinks ... (2001), is Director of the prestigious Holt Belling Centre for Cognitive Science at the fictional University of Gloucester. A notorious womaniser, he is forced to reappraise his lifestyle when he becomes involved with Helen Reed, a novelist who has come to work at the university.

David Lodge is a successful playwright and screenwriter, and has adapted both his own work and other writers' novels for television. Small World was adapted as a television serial, produced by Granada TV in 1988, and Lodge adapted Nice Work as a four-part TV serial for the BBC, broadcast in 1989. It won the Royal Television Society Award (Best Drama Serial) and the author was awarded a Silver Nymph for his screenplay at the International Television Festival in Monte Carlo in 1990. He wrote and presented a documentary about the academic conference circuit, Big Words - Small Worlds, which was broadcast on Channel 4 in November 1987, and a film about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, broadcast by the BBC in 1993. He also adapted Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit as a six-part television serial, first screened in 1994.

His first stage play, The Writing Game, was produced at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in May 1990, and subsequently in Manchester and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lodge adapted it for Channel 4 television in 1996. His most recent play, Home Truths, was performed at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1998. The author subsequently re-wrote the play as a novella, published in 1999. Consciousness and the Novel (2002), explores the representation of human consciousness in fiction, and includes essays on Charles Dickens, Henry James and John Updike. His novel, Author, Author: A Novel (2004), opens in December 1915 with the dying Henry James, and journeys back to the 1880s to explore James's 'middle years'.

David Lodge lives in Birmingham. His latest novel is Deaf Sentence (2008), based on his own experience of deafness.