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Small World is David Lodge?s follow up to he best selling and prize winning novel Changing Places, once again we are reunited with the world of academics, Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp the English and American Lecturers in Literature respectively, and a new gang of literary characters. If you are now sitting there saying ?what?, I will recap, in Changing Places Lodge explored the world of academia, swapping the teaching roles and locations of the American, Morris Zapp and the Englishman, Philip Swallow. What resulted was a book heavy in farce with a clever analysis of the academic world. But having left the book on a knife-edge, Lodge was badgered to write a follow up and in 1984 he obliged with Small World. So is this book as gripping and observant as Changing Places and what exactly are the academics up to this time? The book opens with conference season for the academics. However, the location is Rummidge, where Philip Swallow is now head of the English Department and has finally published his first book. Rummidge, as some of you may know is a fictional English location, which closely resembles the ?charming? city of Birmingham, all concrete and little character. Our old friend Morris Zapp attends, as well as a host of other academics; two of these being, Persse McGarrigle, a young Irish poet and Angelica Pabst, the exquisitely beautiful and brainy lust object of most of the repressed academics at the conference. Everyone is obsessed with Literary Criticism and in particular whether you can truly find a definitive meaning to a book. The conference drones on, the academics are clearly just there for some free booze and some kind of holiday, Persse becomes rather obsessed with Angelica, rather than anything academic and Philip is more obsessed with racking up more air miles at future conferences, than anything to do with his wife Hillary. Yes, the wife swapping of Changing Places was resolved, with a dignified re-swap o
f sorts as Desiree is still a raving feminist and remains in deep hatred with Morris. Small World then gathers pace, centring on Persse?s chase of Angelica, across the globe. Will he catch up with her? Will she return his amorous affections? And why do all the same people keep cropping up all over the world. Amsterdam, Tokyo, New York, Ankara and Jerusalem all feature as conference locations, but they all feature the same people. Yes, you have guessed it Lodge?s book explores the fact that with the advent of available air travel, the same people can all go and discuss the same topics at the most exotic locations they can find. Interspersed with Persse?s pursuit, are comic plots involving Philip?s other woman, Morris?s desire to earn more money than anybody else, academic back stabbing and snipping as the top brass clamber over each other in the fight for a great literary chair, attempted three in a bed romps, writers block and Japanese Karaoke as once again Lodge weaves a farcical and tight plot line of coincidence, sharp wit, suspense and romance. Academics traverse the globe, all to sit bored rigid by what each other has to say, just to look the part and of course while this goes on Desiree Zapp, wages war on all thing male. As you can imagine from this brief synopsis, this is book with a complicated plot lines, but they work as Lodge, with great skill and literary dexterity weaves them seamlessly together. The Humour is sharp and sometimes dark and nearly always situation based in true Basil Fawlty style. Once again the target for mockery are the academics, but this time critics and writers are thrown into the mix as Lodge chastises his own profession with being pompous, anal, self obsessed, pretentious and downright snobby. Lodge, in Small World, poses the question, is any of this academic talk of interpretation and critisicm, really aimed at obtaining a better understanding of literature or is it just self-serving twad
dle? Not surprisingly he seems to answer with the latter. Lodge seems to be railing against the number of awards given to writers, he implies that there are so many now, that they mean very little and I would agree. (Not surprisingly, Small World did not win any awards, despite being nominated for the Booker prize.) But despite, Small World?s v-sign to the pretentiousness of academia, Lodge?s book does a great job of explaining what literary critisicm is. If I were to start a course on Literary Critisicm, this would seem an ideal book to assign, as enclosed in its humorous content are explanations on structuralism and symbolism, in accessible English. As Lodge himself has written serious books on Literary Critisicm, he has done his own academic world a great favour, but as I read through Small World, I sat and wondered are you poking fun at yourself Mr Lodge? The spread and translation of literature is also given the Lodge treatment, how do you translate Sweet Fanny Adams into Japanese? This is the second book by David Lodge that I have read and they were both superb, his writing style is tight and the book flows seamlessly, with great descriptive prose and an impressive style of setting up those humorous situations. The male in mid-life crisis is the main butt of the joke (other than his own contemporaries) and this is a novel that will make you chuckle. This is a fun, but thought provoking novel and by writing Small World; Lodge has proved that the Novel is not dead. If their is one small problem with the book, is that at times it just gets a bet detailed on the critisicm point and thus you need to concentrate hard, but there are not many good books that you disengage your brain for. Small World is published by penguin, is priced at £6.99 and is 339 pages long. If anybody knows the book that beat this at the Booker Prize in 1984, let me know, as it must be just superb to have beaten this.
Take pity on me. Please, take pity on me. I was one of the unfortunate souls who has been forced to study literary criticism as part of my degree studies. And I absolutely hated it. To me a story is there to be read. There is absolutely no point in trying to analyse a book to try and find out if there is, in the subtext, an indication of what the author had for breakfast on the day he or she was waiting for a letter from the publishers. The only possibly useful analysis, in my view, is the one where you work out whether there is an element of historical bias, whether the book is more of a product of its times than just a product. Besides, I never understood it. And as I sit here writing this opinion, please do not read anything into the fact that I have just lit up a cigarette and am lovingly stroking it as it lies between my fingers. And then I gently suck from the straw that brings up the sweet nectar to my lips.... Anyway, sorry about that, I got a bit carried away there! Where was I? Oh yes, lit crit. I needn't have gone to those lectures anyway. I learned more from one particular novel than I did from any lecture. David Lodge, himself a lecturer in English and critical theory, wrote a series of novels based in and around the fictional university city of Rummidge. Unlike his earlier novel 'Trading Places' and his later one 'Nice Work', this one deals with worldwide shenanigans in the university conference and literary theory 'circuit'. The principal players are: Professor Morris Zapp, Lecturer in English at Euphoric State University, California Professor Philip Swallow, Lecturer in English at Rummidge Miss Sybil Maiden, retired of Girton College Cambridge Robin Dempsey, Lecturer at University of Darlington Angelica Pabst, beautiful, very sexy and enigmatic Lily Pabst, Angelica's twin sister, the one with slacker morals! Persse McGarrigle, Lecturer in
English at University of Limerick This is a very complicated novel to explain, but I will attempt to give a brief outline of the story and I mean brief. Persse meets Angelica at Rummidge at a conference and is convinced he loves her. He follows her around the world while he is awaiting a publisher for his book about the influence of T S Eliot on William Shakespeare! He encounters a load of characters who are all vying to become chairman of a Unesco post on literary criticism. Morris Zapp frightens everybody with a paper on how each novel is like a striptease, and he becomes a little bit graphic! He meets a sex-starved Italian lecturer and he is kidnapped. Philip Swallow meets a long lost love. Along the lines Persse finally unravels the enigma that is Angelica, but finds that it is not necessarily going to have a happy ending. Anyone who has read a David Lodge novel wil find the usual ingredients here- farce, humour, intelligent comment and a liberal sprinkling of sex. This is not a novel for children, in fact it is most definitely a novel for adults who won't be turned off by discussions about literary criticism. But, if like me you would like a simple description of what structuralism actually is, well as simple as you can get, this book may well come in handy. However in these days of safer sex it may seem a little dated.
Philip Swallow, Morris Zapp, Persse McGarrigle, the lovely Angelica - the jet-propelled academics are on the move, in the air, on the make, in Small World.