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on 12 June 2001
The story takes place in 1969 as two professors, American Morris Zapp and Englishman Philip Swallow swap places at each other's universities. Swallow goes to Zapp's Euphoric State University (California, probably Berkeley) and Zapp goes to Swallow's University of Rummidge in England's Midlands, (probably Birmingham). In Changing Places David Lodge is an academic writing about academics.
In the background students are revolting, feminism is beginning, US consumerism is rampaging and the prominent English welfare state is becoming more and more worn out. In the foreground the comparison of the two worlds of academe, English and American, becomes a microcosm for the two nations as a whole. The novel explores how the two professors (and their respective wives), become reciprocally aware of how much their life-style and their set of values, inside and outside the Academe, owe to what they progressively recognize as one's own and the other's national identity and character. Literary criticism too is a distinct feature of national identity: Zapp is a champion of specialization, while Swallow despises theory as something un-English.
Swallow sees the Americans as being better off but not having a better life than the English. They are more cynical and he is uncomfortable with the way they place the pursuit of their own ends above nearly everything. Zapp sees England as gloomy, poor, shabby and boring, linked to welfare solidarity and unaware of the power of free enterprise, but he is impressed by family bonds, the warmth of human relationships and the survival of moral scruples.
Neither side wins and no sterotypes are allowed since the narrator invites the reader to sit beside him and at his detached height judge by his own common sense. Common sense of course being a characteristic that the English value very highly.
In Changing Places literature claims a social conscience, an ability to go beyond the surface of things, an ability even to be self-critical. Literature emerges as a form of discourse which wants to increase the reader's critical and literary competence. To emphasise this point Lodge uses a narrative technique that incorporates other forms of communication and exposes their weaknesses. Newspaper articles are shown to have a bogus claim to transparency. Film's claim to represent reality is shown to be limited.
The use of the campus novel is in itself an intriguing facet of Englishness. It offers social analysis but confined to a small arena and can be located between high-brow and low-brow. The style is usually in the form of popular satire but because it often involves writers teaching writing at university it raises itself to a level of seriousness. Satire shows only the weak sides of a society to enhance a critical laughter but the novel's literary status is very high thanks to its sophisticated narrative technique and because an understanding of society's weak sides has been shown to us by the 'wise author' who keeps claiming the privileged social and moral role devised for him by F.R. Leavis. Ultimately the reader is only mildly challenged by the novel and is invited to share the view of the narrator. Overall the novel re-inforces the privileged position of literature, while it updates the traditional narrative techniques of the novel.
In a foreword to the French translation of Changing places, Umberto Eco described it as the funniest novel of the 20th Century. I can only agree.
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Changing Places has been selected for my reading group and I have had so much fun reading through it.

For me, the book has a nice glow of nostalgia. I was myself a student at the University of Birmingham, the model for Rummidge and it is clear from the descriptions of buildings etc that Rummidge is no other place. Changing Places was written in 1975 and describes events in 1969.

The story concerns two academics, one from Rummidge, a mild mannered and rather buttoned up English academic called Philip Swallow and an American from the Euphoria State University of Esseph (which I suppose is San Francisco) called Morris Zapp, who is brash and opinionated. They engage in a 6 month exchange. While neither relishes the change of job, they both have reasons for escape.

The story turns into quite a journey for both, with plenty of bed hopping and cultural misunderstandings. There are plenty of different literary devices used from straight narrative, to the epistolary novel, to news articles (which are occasionally quite absurd) to a kind of Noel Coward drawing room comedy. David Lodge's literary background shows as bits of Shakespeare, WB Yeats and Jane Austen are slyly pushed into the dialogue - its great fun.

There are also moments of farce. One thing I had almost completely forgotten about from my time at Birmingham was using the paternoster lift in the library, a terrifying continually moving elevator which passengers just step on. The description of the chase involving a mad former professor was one of the highlights of the book for me.

Highly recommended.
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on 6 December 2009
I've not read any David Lodge before and picked this up on holiday. Within a few pages I was hooked and pulled into a tight and funny story. I'm particularly interested in UK/US differences anyway, so this played towards my inclinations and interests. And there were some very funny moments.

Clearly this novel is a little dated now (not just from the late sixties setting, but also from the mid seventies writing?) and some of these differences in culture are not as stark as they once were. Also, I found the ending a little disappointing. But overall, I enjoyed the back and forth between Zapp and Swallow and watching their transformations through Lodge's set pieces on a plane, in letters, in prose and in drama.

Many people seem to think this is his best, but I think I will try some more Lodge some time.
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VINE VOICEon 9 February 2016
I've read some of this authors later works and enjoyed them so was interested to read this one.
It was originally published in 1975 and, unfortunately, has not aged very well.
The idea of the plot gives lots of scope of comedy. Professors can be made to be funny characters and the thought of the comparison of UK/US cultures in the sixties/seventies has some interesting ideas. I also liked the sections in the book where the author changed styles, using letters, headlines and even a play script to tell the story.
However, I didn't enjoy reading the book as a whole. The main characters were dull and underdeveloped and not enough was made of the culture clash.
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on 3 June 2014
I really enjoyed this. Living in Birmingham and having been here during the student sit ins this was a trip down memory lane in parts. It is well written using lots of different writing techniques to continue the story. I particularly liked the two airplanes travelling in opposite directions across the Atlantic with an account of what is happening in real time on each plane.
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on 8 May 2001
Changing Places was Lodge's first campus novel and arguably the best. When the Californian Morris Zapp the English Philip Swallow swap jobs for a semester thay swap everything about each other's lives, which obviously has hilarious consequences, but their very diifferent takes on the situation provide a thoughtful aspect to the book. This is not only about a situation but also about an era and is based on Lodge's real life experiences on an academic exchange. This lends an interesting edge to the book, however this is such a work of genius, you forget the critical aspect and just smile your way through. I would recommend this book, but beware of the academic aspect. If it is new to you this book will either be a confusion or a delightful insight!
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on 4 December 2000
I didn't exactly miss 1969 - I was born at the beginning of the year. But I wasn't terribly conscious of what was going on in the world around me. There are two big events of that year I feel cheated of experiencing - the Moon landing and the student revolution. Lodge's book is a satire on the latter event.
It describes the progress of innocent British academic Philip Swallow through the campus uprising at Eurphoric State (really Berkeley, not Stanford as another reviewer mistakenly claimed). Meanwhile, his exchange partner, cynical American academic Morris Zapp, cuts a swathe through the campus at Rummidge (Birmingham).
For those of us who never experienced 1969, the novel can be read as a marvellous evocation of those times. It is also very, very funny.
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on 13 November 2013
The story starts out as modestly paced, lightweight, and reasonably amusing. Growing steadily faster and funnier, it becomes a hilarious page-turning farce. On the way, there's a nice sprinkling of ironic commentary on the delusions and vanities of academic life, the sixties, and sexual relationships. Another hit from David Lodge.
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In 1969 Lodge, who was then a lecturer at the University of Birmingham (here called the University of Rummidge), spent six months as visiting associate professor at the University of California (here the University of Euphoria). The novel is about an academic exchange scheme: an English fairly undistinguished lecturer of Literature, Philip Swallow, visiting an American campus, while a rather more high-powered American professor of Literature, Morris Zapp, visits an English one. The difference between American and English universities was greater in 1969, when Lodge wrote the book, than it is today, when English universities have become much more like American ones, so that the novel in some respects has become something of a period piece.

We are introduced to Philip and Morris as they are simultaneously crossing the Atlantic in opposite directions and Lodge brilliantly evokes the experience of flying. We learn quite a lot about their personalities, something about their history (marital - each has left his wife behind - and otherwise), about the very different reasons why they had gone in for the exchange, and something about their approach to English Literature.

The accounts of their experiences alternate throughout the book, a technique that nicely brings out the contrasts in social behaviour, in life-style, in climate, in radio and television programmes, in university tenure and in what is expected of university teachers, and in political awareness: Swallow has arrived in America when student radicalism is at its height; it is just beginning, in a milder form, when Zapp arrives in Rummidge. Both men become involved in different ways.

After a while Philip becomes intoxicated with the American way of life, compared with which his life in Rummidge appears to him drab and colourless. Zapp is not exactly intoxicated with Rummidge, but Rummidge takes to him in a big way.

After a while Lodge seems to have exhausted the subject of comparing life in America with life in England, and he then involves each of the two men in compromising situations with women. The wives each come to hear about it through third parties, which we learn through letters between them and their husbands. The comedy of manners gives way to the complicated comedy of farce, and the correspondence is still quite witty.

Philip becomes intoxicated with the American way of life, compared with which his life in Rummidge appears to him drab and colourless. Zapp is not exactly intoxicated with Rummidge, but Rummidge takes to him in a big way.

They have each met the wife of the man with whom they have changed places, the conventional Hilary Swallow and the feisty Désirée Zapp, and slowly this will develop into wife-swapping - or does it? The four meet to sort things out, but the novel ends without a decision, and we will have to wait until the next novel - “Small World” - to find out. Instead this one ends with “the sound of men talking” theoretical stuff about the difference between a novel and a film (the last chapter being written in the form of a film script).

That post-modern ending will please students of literary theory, but may be a disappointment for more conventional readers.
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on 24 October 2010
This book is not without its failings but like Boyle's "The Tortilla Curtain" I gave it five stars for its excellent entertainment value coupled with wonderful writing.
Published in 1975 and set in 1969 this book bubbles with picturesque observations and a penetratingly accurate portrayal of the differences between English Academia versus American Academia. Policeman Plod versus Sherriff Shlick.
The book revolves around the exchange posting between two lecturers, one an American from California, Morris Zapp, and the other from the Midlands England, Philip Sparrow. David Lodge weaves a wonderful tapestry around the six months each lecturer spends in the other's campus. Albeit at times slightly over political with regard to the student unrest in the late 60's which is less of interest to today's reader, this novel is an excellent depiction of its period.
Lodge's sharp wit comes to life very early and I especially enjoyed Zapp's surprise on learning that he was the only man of the 156 passengers aboard the charter flight to Heathrow. If you cannot guess why, read this wonderful novel and find out.
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