Lives in Writing by David Lodge – review

Novelist-critic David Lodge explores the idea of literary biography in his latest collection of essays

If most novelist-critics wear two hats, then David Lodge – as novelist, critic and literary scholar – sports three. This collection of essays shows us Lodge as a general critic. They explore the idea of literary biography, a subject that inspired his recent novels Author, Author (2004) and A Man of Parts (2011). These books lightly fictionalised the lives of Henry James and HG Wells respectively. Critics were ambivalent; many concluded, like Adam Kirsch, that "the novelist's wit" had been "smothered by the scholar's conscientiousness".

In his essay on HG Wells, Lodge attempts to counter scepticism about "bio-fiction". He argues that the postmodern biographical novel follows on from 18th-century pseudo-historical novels such as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Samuel Richardson's Pamela. He claims (more dubiously) that his fiction cleaves to historical fact only to supply "an occasional reality check on the narrative"; but his novelistic desire to offer "a different kind of interpretation of real lives" is sincere.

The essays vary greatly in quality. The worst, a saccharine encomium to Diana, Princess of Wales, should have remained in Lodge's bottom drawer. But there is a judicious survey of Kingsley Amis's life in which Lodge's populism and his scholarship forcefully combine. His judgment that Amis's prose "puts truthfulness before elegance" is finely poised.

The collection's most affecting piece is a tribute to Lodge's friend, the late diarist and playwright Simon Gray. Lodge, in scholarly mode, gives a close reading of Gray's rhetorical technique before concluding: "You don't have to know your apoplanesis from your aposiopesis to appreciate the effects of such tropes: spontaneity, comedy, honesty."


Lucian Robinson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A Man of Parts by David Lodge – review

Wells's life would suit a great biography or a novel. This hybrid doesn't quite come off, writes Adam Mars-Jones

Adam Mars-Jones

17, Apr, 2011 @4:30 AM

Article image
Quite a Good Time to Be Born by David Lodge review – a top novelist, and a bag of nerves
David Lodge’s account of the first half of his life is steeped in anxiety, writes Kate Kellaway

Kate Kellaway

01, Feb, 2015 @2:00 PM

Article image
The Campus Trilogy by David Lodge – review
David Lodge's trilogy of novels about a fictional English university are solidly crafted pieces of comedy, the last oddly prescient about academic life and British society, writes Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney

27, Nov, 2011 @12:05 AM

Article image
Writer’s Luck by David Lodge review – from academia to the mainstream
In his second volume of memoir, the novelist ranges from earnest to Pooterish

DJ Taylor

31, Dec, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Nonfiction to look out for in 2018
Spies, suffragettes and Mary Shelley feature heavily in next year’s nonfiction lists – along with essays from the likes of Zadie Smith, Graham Swift and Amos Oz

Rachel Cooke

31, Dec, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
Ginger, You're Barmy by David Lodge – review

David Lodge's 1962 comic novel about national service offers little sign of Britain's dawning sexual revolution, says Lettie Ransley

Lettie Ransley

28, May, 2011 @11:05 PM

Article image
The Opposite of Loneliness review – Marina Keegan's life cut short
Keegan's posthumous collection of essays and stories shows a prodigious talent in full bloom, writes Lucy Scholes

Lucy Scholes

26, Jul, 2014 @11:05 PM

Article image
Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives by John Sutherland – review
Sutherland's survey of writers in English is partial, personal and highly entertaining, writes Tim Adams

Tim Adams

15, Sep, 2013 @11:00 AM

Article image
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne – review
A history of Jane Austen in 18 objects paints a vivid picture of her life and times, writes Peter Conrad

Peter Conrad

17, Jan, 2013 @11:03 AM

Article image
Fiction and nonfiction to look out for in 2019
We look ahead to rich offerings in next year’s genre-challenging nonfiction list and thrilling new fiction writing for all tastes

Rachel Cooke and Alex Preston

30, Dec, 2018 @9:00 AM