Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 17 February 2013
'Exodus' follows 'Spurious' and 'Dogma' as the third volume in Lars Iyer's tragicomic epic of contemporary philosophy. The mixture is much as before. To that degree, one may predict that readers who enjoyed the earlier books will enjoy this one, and for the same reasons. 'Exodus' may of course be read independently of its predecessors, not least because Iyer's narrative method is repetitive, cyclical and agglutinative rather than linear and architectonic. It makes little sense to do so, however, and readers new to Iyer should begin with 'Spurious'.
I admit to a degree of initial disappointment with 'Exodus'. There were signs already in 'Dogma' that Iyer was beginning to strain his material beyond its natural significance, and here at first the evidence accumulates. 'Exodus' is significantly longer than its predecessors, but not to any great purpose. The jokes are not as fresh, the repetitions seem less motivated and more irritating, the energy level - particularly in the first half of the book - is down; the reader may find himself experiencing déjà vu and wondering quite what is the point of all this. The suspicion arises that this third volume has been written too hastily and edited too lightly.
And yet...there is nothing else like Iyer's project, and 'Exodus' does bring it to a sort of non-conclusion - "an interval of neural calm", as Ballard would say - that is consistent with what has gone before. What is new in this volume is a change of focus that admits a wider view. The tribulations of W. and 'Lars', Iyer's philosophers-errant, are still front and centre, but take place now against a thumbnail sketch of the fate of continental philosophy in provincial British universities since the advent of Thatcherism - itself a microcosm of the possible fate of all critical thinking in a time preoccupied with material values.
No doubt some will regret this change of tone. I simply wished that Iyer had had the courage of his convictions and made his satire more full-blooded. The apocalyptic tone that is what really unifies the book - and is remorselessly undercut by the low comedy of intellectual life on a budget - accumulates a steady force, but requires for catharsis a degree of climactic madness in the service of moral indignation that seems for now a little beyond Iyer's instinctive range. As with sunlight and cucumbers, there is perhaps only so much pathos to be extracted from the tribulations of postgraduates. The conclusion awakes odd echoes of the far more conventional - and trivial - campus novel.
Still, I recommend 'Exodus', as I recommended the earlier books. It will not convince anyone who was not convinced by 'Spurious'; and it might be argued that 'Dogma' and 'Exodus' are really sections of a baggy single book that would have been more pointed at half the length. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed reading all three. The question of whether Iyer is genuinely a writer of fiction rather than an intellectual provocateur with a gift for sarcasm is not solved here: but the comedy of intelligence is so rare in contemporary British fiction that it seems churlish to carp.