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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 21 August 2017
Not finished it yet but good reading.
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on 2 October 2002
Quite simply, this is one of the great campus novels. Believe me - as a PhD student, I am amazed at the way Lodge draws humour from the often dry and slightly weird world of academia. You don't need to have a degree to read this book, though - it is a wonderful example of the way two worlds that are not as different as you may think interact. very, very funny. To me, it screams out for a sequel (although Robyn makes a cameo in Thinks..). I would love to know what she's up to today! Someone should slap a preservation order on Lodge.
Better than the History Man - better than Lucky Jim. Brilliant.
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This is the third novel in the Campus Trilogy, of which the earlier ones are “Changing Places” and “Small World”. It is set in 1979, the year in which Mrs Thatcher’s government came to power and wanted universities to be run like businesses and to become less dependent on government funding. Birmingham University, along with most others, tried to strengthen its ties with local industry. So for this novel Lodge uses the same formula he had used for “Changing Places”, this time with an academic visiting a business concern to learn how business works, and a businessman eventually reciprocating by spending time in the university.

The businessman is Victor Wilcox. He, short of stature, is the Managing Director of J. Pringle & Sons, an engineering firm in Brummidge and he is worried because it is experiencing some decline since the boom years. The academic is Robyn Penrose, tall and lissom, who has a three year lectureship in English Literature at Rummidge University. Her speciality is the Industrial Novel (and we are given an account of the literary theories of the time: she sides with the continental ones; she is also left-wing, a feminist and reads all sorts of Freudian symbolism into the novels.) She is told by her Head of Department (Philip Swallow, whom we have met in “Changing Places” and in “Small World”) that regrettably the financial cuts imposed by the government will not allow the university to make her post a tenured one when her three years come to an end.

When the University decides that each department should show an interest in industry by sending a member of staff to shadow an industrialist for one day a week during the winter term, her head of department Philip Swallow (whom we have met in the two earlier novels of the trilogy) nominates Robyn: she does, after all, specialize on the industrial novel. The Chairman of Pringle & Sons asks Vic to let Robyn shadow him. Both Vic nor Robyn resent the scheme, the more so when they find at their first meeting that they have totally different points of view which are displayed at length. She is duly appalled by the noise, dirt, heat and repetitive work when Victor shows her round the factory, and also by what she hears when she sits in on a management meeting.

Vic and Robyn keep on challenging each other’s philosophy, each making telling points. (In the course of it, Robyn provides a sexually loaded deconstruction - which irritates the hell out of Vic - of a Silk Cut cigarette advertisement). All the time there are suggestive leers and sniggers from coarse males whenever they see Vic with Robyn; soon Vic has erotic thoughts about her, and he does indeed fall in love with her.

“It was, perhaps, inevitable that Victor Wilcox and Robyn Penrose would end up in bed together” - it’s certainly inevitable in a David Lodge campus novel: he has already described several similar scenes in detail, as well as a few others involving pissing. But this particular scene has a psychological dimension which goes beyond the erotic, for while Vic is in love with Robyn, she makes it clear to him that she is not in love with him. She retains her cool.

And there is a cool analysis of the changes that have come over Britain with the Thatcherite revolution. Lodge has always mocked the Critical Theory which he presumably taught at Birmingham and to which Robyn was committed. Now it is not only Vic the manufacturer who has questioned its usefulness, but so does one of its practitioners who is now leaving academia for the world of finance. Vic has already railed against the world of finance whose activities have contributed so much to the decay of British manufacturing. At the end, the novel comes down on the side of Robyn and academic work, but it also tips its hat in respect to Vic’s resilience and enterprise.

All three of the novels in the Campus Trilogy are witty; but this one is by far the best and most mature of them, and that for a number of reasons: the issues here really matter and are more important and profound than the differences between the British and the American academia and manners in “Changing Places”; certainly more important than the conference circus in “Small World”. The plotting in this novel is vastly superior to that of the other two, and much more enjoyable. The characters of Vic and Robyn have far more depth to them than any of those in the preceding ones. The lubricious passages here are nothing like as frequent or as compulsive as before.
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on 11 November 2000
Lodge's talent is at full force here in one of his earlier novels; set in the fictional town of Rummidge (as are "Changing places" and Small World", two of his later novels), "Nice Work" charts the entry of an attractive female university English lecturer, Robyn Penrose, into the life of Vic Wilcox, gruff middle aged MD of an engineering factory. Set up as part of an Industry Year exchange, Robyn follows Vic around, viewing for the first time a world she knows nothing about and casting her sensitive and educated eye over all that she sees. The comic mismatch beteen the couple is a joy to read as Lodge expertly switches between the world of the univesity campus, with all its pretentious enquiry and the rougher, more competitive environment of the factory workplace. Inevitably, sparks fly as the two discover the fallacy of their previously-held notions of the other's profession and learn to accept the differences. Written with flair and perfect comic timing, it is a must for any reader, whether a Lodge fan or not. Excellent.
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on 15 November 2007
Nice Work is a clever, well-constructed comedy and social commentary about a clash of cultures in a fictional Midlands town in the mould of Birmingham. Well-paced and meticulously plotted, the novel revolves around the unlikely convergence of Dr Robyn Penrose - a professor of Women's studies and purporter of deconstructuralist and feminist theory - and Vic Wilcox, MD of an industrial engineering plant. Written aptly at a time of great social transformation (Thatcher, class strife, the decline of industry and massive cuts to public spending) David Lodge pieces together an astute oberservation of British life. Moreover, he is a master at developing tangible and appealing characters by telling the story - alternately - from their perspective. Billed as 'the campus novel meets the industrial novel', this is a highly readable and thought-provoking work.
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on 24 August 2010
I think that all students of English Literature should read this. It is better than any number of theory books that they will ever come across and much more fun. I've read it more times than I can remember and always get something new from it. It's also great for cheering yourself up.
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on 15 May 2012
The worlds of academia and industry collide very deftly in this, one of Lodge's finest, if not his best novel to date. Opposites it seems often do attract, but more often than not are simply thrown together through circumstances. The ups and downs of the protagonmists relationship are superbly drawn. The only reason it's not a 5-star is the rather contrived ending. Charlotte Bronte and the victorians could not have come up with anything less believable!!
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on 3 July 2013
I enjoyed it very much and couldn't even suspect the reading of this book would give me so much pleasure. Love both Lodge's style, his smooth but smart irony, the way he speaks about quite serious and deep things, but does it without affectedness. I'd recommend it as a quality and worthy reading for those who care.
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on 26 October 2015
A well observed comedy/commentary on industrial and personal relations in Britain of the early eighties. And how dated it , at first sight, appears. Factories full of ancient machinery and work practices. A world without iPads or mobile phones and middle aged men too shy to strip naked in front of their lover without first turning the bed room light off. And yet many truisms remain,highlighted by reference to the Industrial Novels of Dickens and Gaskell, as true today as they were in Victorian times. In parts Nice Work reads as a treatise on Academia and early Thatcherism. It also introduced this reader to the works of Mrs Gaskell and Lord Tennyson, which can't be bad. Recommended.
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on 18 May 2014
I enjoyed the story about two opposites and how they eventually come together. He is the Managing Director of an engineering company and she is a Doctor in English lecturing at university on English literature, especially the role of women in novels of the industrial revolution.
I do not like the excess amount of English language theory that gets rather boring but is evident in all David Lodge's books and is the reason why I could not give it 5 stars. His best book is Paradise News which I would give 5 stars.
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