by David Lodge
Category: Fiction / General
Publication date: 1 March 2001
Number of pages: 352
Ralf Messenger enjoys the affluent lifestyle afforded by his position as director of Holt Belling Centre for Cognitive Science. When he meets Helen Reed, a distinguished novelist, a stand-off between them is formed by their mutual attraction for each other under impossible circumstances, but all that is about to change...
Lodge pursues another wry investigation of human foibles across his now very familiar territory - campus sex, Roman Catholic angst, clashes between literary and other cultures, squabbles between old fashioned humanist and religious notions of self and meaning and more post modernist views, loving literary pastiches, the scholarly conference, the learned lecture. The arresting and important new spin on the successful old recipes and devices is this novel's alert interest in debates (carefully swotted up from the current scientific literature, according to the novel's appended reading list) about cognitive psychology and its claims to be the great new fathomer of human consciousness. Newly widowed, shaky Catholic, novelist and temporary writer-in-residence and teacher of creative writing, Helen Reed tangles with womanizing Professor of Cognitive Psychology at newish Gloucester University. They keep overlapping journals (his, of course, more new tech than hers), correspond by email, end up having torrid sex and argue constantly about God, life after death, and consciousness. Big issues have never deterred Lodge, and they don't here. Can you know what's going on in other people's heads? (If only we did have cartoon-ish 'Thinks' balloons on display.) Is identity just brain-cell functions? Are not novelists better at examining consciousness than any cognitive scientist will ever be? Surely robots can't replicate the human? Lecturettes and homilies on these themes abound, but none of them proves as revealing as the many good old plot shocks the novel triumphantly arranges in illustration of Ms Reed's sturdy scepticisms about what the new technologies and their acolytes can achieve. Lodge is by no means the fastest-drawing literary wit around these days, but he is still a most canny combiner of the serious subject and the witty approach. What's more, the stout defences here of humane selfhoods and fraught and fragile Christian yearnings in the teeth of arrogant and hard-minded scientism are cheering indeed. Nice work, again, you might say; even Nice Work again (down even to a most welcome reappearance of that novel's feisty Eng Lit postmodernist Robyn Penrose) Review by VALENTINE CUNNINGHAM (Kirkus UK)
David Lodge is the author of ten previous novels, a trilogy of plays and a novella. He has also written stage plays screenplays and numerous works of literary criticism. His books have been translated into twenty-five languages. He is Honorary Professor of Modern English Literature at the University of Birmingham, where he taught for many years, and lives in that city. David Lodge's books have sold over 2.5 million copies.
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