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Thinks . . . Paperback – 1 Sep 2002
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A smart, seductive novel of ideas...Lodge is at the top of his game. (The Atlantic Monthly)
About the Author
David Lodge is the author of twelve novels and a novella, including the Booker Prize finalists Small World and Nice Work. He is also the author of many works of literary criticism, including The Art of Fiction and Consciousness and the Novel.
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Nothing outstanding, but if it's the only unread book left on your shelf, it's worth picking up.
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with his vast array of styles, ranging from stream of consciousness (self-deprecatingly referred to at one point as an outdated literary form), diary, present tense narrative, e-mail exchange and a series of hilarious parodies of other novelists' styles as Helen's students are deployed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.
As the work, it has everything to be a fantastic book: interesting characters, a good plot, at least at the beginning, smart dialogues and a lot of promises. However, David Lodge seems to be so clever that his book becomes nothing else than an unbearable and pretentious big pain in the ass
The story here takes place at the imaginary university of Gloucester, situated between Gloucester and Cheltenham on a rather bleak and barren sounding greenfield site, surprising as this area is well known for being decorative.
The main protagonist is Professor of Cognitive Science Ralph Messenger, who appears highly sexed and spends much of his time pursing Helen, a temporary lecturer in Creative writing.
One learns a lot about the then state of Artificial Intelligence and Lodge must have done a lot of research for the book, which is a fascinating and relatively painless glimpse into this subject.
Through his characters he has amusing pops at various aunt sallies, such as the appalling food in Prague, the Catholic Church, American universities, and some of his uni colleagues.
Essentially, the topic of the book is academic romance, but here the narration follows two first-persons, one of them in rather boring stream-of-consciousness style, and a third person to narrate the encounters between them, rather long dialogues centered on consciousness, the mind an cognitive science studies, which might be amusing for a while, but eventually they are neither educative nor really fun.
Eventually, a review says more about the expectations of the reader than about the book itself. This book is probably OK if it's your first David Lodge, or if you're really into the English academic life. But Small World is far funnier by a stretch, so it would by my first choice for the author.
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One of the irritatings thing is that the computer science students are shown as glum, silent and stupid, while...Read more