Friday, September 26, 2008

David Lodge: Small World

This could well be the funniest book I’ve ever read. I grinned and chortled all the way through to the very last sentence. Set right at the end of the 70’s when air travel still felt glamorous, computers were still in their infancy, and mobile phones unheard of, the story follows a set of British, Irish, American, German, Italian, Japanese and French academics as they jet around the globe from one literary criticism conference to the next. There’s plenty of bawdy sex, romance, mistaken identity, quotations from literature, discourses on literary theory, the quest for the Holy Grail of the UNESCO chair of literary criticism, and even a kidnapping. The action whizzes along at a pace to match the characters’ whizzing around the globe attending conferences from the smallest and dullest at the so-called Rummidge University in England, to the biggest and brightest in New York City – with plenty more in-between. Persse McGarrigle, a young Irish poet who’s still a virgin (will he lose his virginity by the end of the book?!) is chasing after a mysterious and intelligent young woman with a mane of shining black hair (will he ever find her?), while the older but no wiser professors are all chasing after the UNESCO chair, with plenty of back-stabbing and in-fighting going on in the process. Having jetted to, attended, and organized a number of such conferences myself, and having tackled literary criticism as an undergraduate, I think this book should be on every professor’s office shelf.

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