Lives in Writing by David Lodge

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Lives in Writing by David Lodge

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Category: Entertainment
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not flawless, but this collection of extended journalism shows the lives off-page that many of our most famous authors leaked into their works.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: January 2015
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780099587767

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David Lodge Lives in Writing. So blares the cover of my edition, and it's not far wrong. When he's not entertaining us with his writing career (now in its third, more erudite and to me more serious stage, after the first third of comic light touches, before he found his metier – and fame with TV adaptations– with comedies about the social and sexual lives of academe) he's teaching about and around writing. When I was younger I also read around writing – literature books, in other words – and Lodge's were among those I turned to. So this book and its contents are a welcome step back down a very familiar road.

The steps inside are familiar to Lodge, too, as some of the contents are heart-felt eulogies to those who have passed, such as his great friend Malcolm Bradbury. On the whole, however, they all focus on the side to the author that may or not be on the page – the way their lived life brings their writing to bear. So we open with a familiar Lodge subject – Graham Greene – and by way of critiquing the huge Norman Sherry biography we see how the life Greene lived and the places he went to showed up in his later novels. Here is Kingsley Amis writing a book that many people discarded when it first came out, but lo and behold its main character may have even presaged the man Amis turned into in later life. Here is a look at John Boorman's personal quest rearing its head in his movies.

I won't go into all the examples of this occurring that Lodge finds, but needless to say that the essays all come up with something interesting. And even when sticking to the one theme they still refrain from being too similar – there is a lot of ground between, say, Alan Bennett's annual diaries and those of Simon Gray. They on the whole originally appeared in broadsheet articles, and while some are over a decade old they show the same erudition, yet read in a friendly manner.

That's not to say it's a flawless book. At times Lodge nit-picks, including about the Sherry. So I'll do the same – how is it, to start, that many of the authors here are supposed to be old soaks, drinking their last years away, when I never knew of Graham Greene being without a drink? And he's the one we see here being fleeced by a financial conman who lost all – repeat, all of the author's fortune. It's not funny, as its blurb suggests – but then, neither is the Gray that Lodge quotes. And of course, the whole book fails to notice its inevitable next step – how is the life David Lodge has lived reflected on these pages? What religion is in his life that makes him see it in all those he reads (Greene, Spark et al)? Where, too, you might ask, is the religion in my life that makes me ask such a question, but I'll not thank you for it – let's not make this loop a full Ouroboros.

The biggest flaw, in my mind, is when the padding that is an article about Princess Di appears, which is sickening in fawning over the – well, the fawning over her death. There are also a couple of longer chunks about the more pompous literary critic that Lodge never really became (thankfully) that took me right back to university, and that the common woman on the Clapham omnibus will not be very grateful for. But there is enough to counter that, particularly the article about Bradbury, and how both authors' output was changed by each having the other as a similar yet different foil. On the whole, therefore, this book successfully reminded me of the pleasures of reading around and behind one's favourite books and authors, which was its purpose – and a very welcome one, at that.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Lodge's last similar book was The Art of Fiction.

Buy Lives in Writing by David Lodge at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lives in Writing by David Lodge at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Lives in Writing by David Lodge at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Lives in Writing by David Lodge at Amazon.com.

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