30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A dazzling feast from David Lodge,
By A Customer
This review is from: Thinks (Hardcover)
One of David Lodge's recurring themes is the tension between two different worlds. In "Nice Work", the sparks flew between an industrialist and the modernist English literature lecturer Robyn Penrose (who, promoted to Professor, makes a cameo appearance in "Thinks" - brief reappearance of characters from previous novels being another Lodge trademark).
In "Thinks", Ralph Messenger, a cognitive scientist at a modern but already decaying university, spars with Helen Reed, an attractive widow and English novelist whose books, written in the third person and past tense, are "so old-fashioned in form as to be almost experimental". Debate is joined as to the meaning of consciousness, with Helen doubting Ralph's beliefs that it can be reduced to a series of impulses in the brain. The intellectual sparring develops into a deeper relationship, as Helen is confronted with a revelation about her past life which leaves the reader stunned in sympathy.
Lodge himself reserves the third person past tense stuff to the last chapter. Earlier, he dazzles us with his vast array of styles, ranging from stream of consciousness (self-deprecatingly referred to at one point as an outdated literary form), diary, present tense narrative, e-mail exchange and a series of hilarious parodies of other novelists' styles as Helen's students are deployed by her to prove to Messenger that consciousness has an essential human element (I particularly enjoyed the Irvine Welsh parody). There are other classic Lodgeisms along the way: no other writer has his gift for observational humour. Congress with a woman of ample proportions is compared to "making love to a bouncy castle", and I won't spoil another analogy involving a bird's nest by saying anything more than that it had me in stitches of simultaneous laughter and revulsion!
As with all Lodge's books, once taken up it has to be read to the end in one sitting, even into the small hours on a weekday with work beckoning. I am not sure that "Thinks" is his best book (cognitive science did not grab me as much as some of his other themes), but it is streets ahead of anything else around. The tragedy is that his books are so long anticipated and so soon read. At one point in "Thinks", Helen wonders why, with the histories of so many people on the earth destined to remain forever unknown, novelists should bother to invent so many additional characters and work so laboriously to give them colour. Before long, she fears, readers forget most of the novel's contents anyway. If this is David Lodge speaking, sending out a cri de coeur to his readers, wondering whether his efforts are worth it, the answer from this reader at least is a resounding yes. Please do not make us wait 5 years for your next book Mr Lodge.