It's been 12 years since I read the Booker-nominated Small World
, but oh my Goddess, I remember with crystal clarity that night when my sides were pinched and sore after a bout of nonstop laughing. Small World
is a sendup of academia in general, but especially of English literature academia---which is David Lodge's bailiwick. He was (in the '80s) in Modern English Literature at the Univ. of Birmingham in England. Lodge is considered the premier satirist of that, well, small world, and this is a well-aimed parody. At the same time, he is kind, even affectionate, toward his characters.
I gained a clearer picture of Small World
from these observations in an Amazon customer review by Russ Mayes of Glen Allen, Virginia:
More than an academic satire
I approached this book with a bit of trepidation... [negative comment re. another Lodge novel] I wasn't sure I wanted to read Small World, though I had been assured it was a better book. I am glad I finally overcame my resistance and read it, because it is a much better book; indeed I think it is a very good book.
Small World is also a satire on academia, and while all the jacket blurbs talk about how biting the satire is, I didn't find that to be the case. Lodge seemed much more in tune and sympathetic with his characters, even as he skewers their antics. Also, the attacks in this novel seem less personal and more on literary studies as a profession.
I actually think Lodge has much bigger ambitions in this novel than writing an academic satire. His goal, it seems to me, is to package the history of the novel into a story in the form of an academic satire. So instead of a relatively simple, satirical plot (as in Nice Work), Lodge gives us a multitude of interwoven plots. He has a standard comic plot, but he also has a thriller plot, several varieties of romantic plots, a few mistaken identity plots, a foundling plot, a reunion plot and probably several others I'm forgetting. As the characters move around the world, they move in and out of the various plots. Some of the great moments in the book are watching how the characters react and change as they move from the comic plot to the thriller plot to one of the romance plots.
Because Lodge is writing about Literature academics and has designed the novel to borrow from many different genres and eras, he gets to show off his extensive literary knowledge as well. The novel is littered with quotations (attributed and unattributed) and allusions (acknowledge and unacknowledged). I had fun trying to pick out these bits as I was reading, but you don't need to catch the allusions to enjoy the book. Overall, I highly recommend the book.[emphases in bold are mine]
Let me reiterate that point: you do not
need to know much about literary theory or the study of English literature, to read Small World
with pleasure. All you have to know is what you've already gathered from being an avid reader.
I can appreciate Russ Mayes's calling Small World
"more than an academic satire," because I was pulled into caring deeply about its genuine love story, which glows with authenticity in the midst of all the tomfoolery. There's a marvelous scene of Our Hero stomping out letters in the snow, hoping his beloved will see his message. That's all I'm going to say, because I don't want to spoil it for you. [smile]
In conclusion, a note of l'absurde
: the blurbs for Small World
put David Lodge on a par with a truly strange assortment of writers---P. G. Wodehouse, Roland Barthes, Philip Roth, John Updike, S. J. Perelman, Evelyn Waugh and Joseph Heller. And yes, you've guessed it: some of the blurbs say, "David Lodge combines the blah-blah of Author A and the yak-yak of Author B." [laugh]
This novel is available at My Bookshelf