I had forgotten David Lodge’s witticisms and quirkiness. Not surprisingly as it has been quite some time since I enjoyed his fiction. I can’t even recall where I stumbled across this book but unpacking my library I discovered it and plunged straight into it. If memory serves me correctly, it’s not one of Lodge’s best works and at times I found myself drifting off into my own thoughts, rather than following the plot and the development of his characters. Nonetheless, this book possesses all of Lodge’s brave merging of philosophical musing and ironic interactions between various characters.
Meet Helen: her husband has recently passed away, quite suddenly. She is a novelist who has taken up a post teaching a course in Creative Writing for a semester in a university in some quaint corner of Britain – a standard Lodgian location! She is struggling to come to terms with her new status as a widow and is unsure of how to place herself within the context of the academic institution.
Meet Ralph Messenger, known to most as just Messenger: he is a successful academic in the field of Artificial Intelligence and cognitive science. He is an enigma, a flirt, a philanderer and a fascinating individual. He is exploring the nature of the conscious mind in her personal life and in a professional context. He is intrigued by Helen from the moment he first spots her and getting her into his bed becomes a subtle quest of his.
Meet Carrie: Ralph’s wife, mother of a number of children (some from a previous marriage), aware of Ralph’s straying nature and engaged in some of her own straying too. She is intelligent and witty but lives sometimes in the shadow of Ralph’s enigmatic personality.
There are other characters who litter this novel – Ludmilla, the wench from Prague (I can’t think of a better word to describe her!), Ralph and Carrie’s children, Marianne and her husband and, of course, the hot tub built at the Messengers’ weekend home, imported from California and totally out of place in the British midland environment.
The relationships between these various characters, the confidences shared, their individual growth and the random events that make up the novel’s background (a police investigation into pornography, an international conference and the appearance of a possibly terminal disease) all lend themselves to a smashing read.
If you know anything about Academia then this one is definitely for you!