Small World – David Lodge: A Review

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Date finished: March 22nd 2015

“Intensity of experience is what we’re looking for, I think. We know we won’t find it at home anymore, but there’s always the hope that we’ll find it abroad.”

David Lodge is my go-to holiday reading, my chick-lit if you will. His writing burst with a relatable melange of wit and wisdom; intelligent and silliness; clever plotting and farcical cliche. He’s easy to digest, and pairs nicely with a coffee in the morning (or, after 5pm, a crisp lager).

Small World was a long time hold-out; never available in the library and never on the shelf in bookshops. Eventually, I found a copy in Newcastle and it did not disappoint.

Small World charts the intersecting misadventures of conference-going university staff as they globe-trot around the world, attending lectures on the latest linguistics and literature, and getting into various adult mischief inbetween. Recurring favourites Philip Swallow and Morris Zapp return in this sort-of sequel, but the main focus is on puritan conference-virgin Persse McGarrigle through whose eyes we see the madness of the academic world. He bumps briefly into the beautiful Angelica Pabst and becomes obsessed with finding her once again, following the conference trail in order to find a woman who he’s slowly falling in love with and crossing the paths of the same old miscreants at each new place.

Lodge’s keen acerbic satire of the academic world is perhaps at its sharpest in this novel, as he skewers the blustering, hypocritical, insipid, plagiarist and immoral holders of doctorates whom he knows so intimately, and his ability to go from introspection to hilarity within a sentence remains fully intact. At times the novel comes off as clunky and the farcical nature of the comedy is a touch dated at times, but these are minor issues within the scheme of the book.

It’s not Lodge’s best work, but that’s hardly a criticism from an author who sets the bar so high. It has neither the meatiness or thoughtfulness of Nice Work, and lacks the more personal hilarity that marks out Deaf Sentence, but it’s a solid bit of fun, on par with Paradise News or Therapy. Perfect, really, for a nice holiday read.

7/10

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