Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Is it funny to see David Lodge embarrassed?

I've read a few David Lodge novels and quite a few of his essays. Without being able to recall any particular examples, my general sense is that he's a very good writer and a smart, humorous man; I always plan to read more of his work.

One book of Lodge's I have not read is Author, Author, his 2004 biographical novel about Henry James. And that's primarily because James, while a hero to some of my heroes (Joseph Conrad called him "master"), is not among my favorites.

Others may have not read Author, Author for a different reason: it was one of four or five Jamesian novels to come out at the same time and, while receiving good notice and reviews, it was considered weaker than Colm Tóibín's The Master, another biographical novel.

Lodge's response to the whole business: write an extensive essay about it and publish it in a book titled The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel.

Nicholas Blincoe briefly covers the episode here, and Terry Eagleton delves into the new book here. Both articles are worth reading, and The Year of Henry James sounds appealing to me. But I still don't want to read a novel with Henry James at the center of it.

Is it funny to see David Lodge embarrassed? Blincoe says yes, but only "in the Bizarro World of Literature, [where] fellow writers found an acute comedy of embarrassment in Lodge's situation: in the mortification that he must have felt as a good and heartfelt novel suffered in the shadow of another book."

Piling on: last month Tóibín's novel won €100,000 (£68,000) as part of the annual International Impac Dublin Literary Award, the world's richest literary prize for a single work of fiction in English.

--Marshal Zeringue