Friday, April 17, 2015

Book Club | David Lodge

Changing Places by David Lodge

I am currently majoring in English, so I have the privilege of exploring some pretty wacky, thought-provoking, sometimes just plain crazy literature. But this term, I decided to take a Contemporary Literature course, considering I need it for my major and also because I specialize in Medieval and folklore--the complete opposite of a postmodern novel. I've been loving the books we've read so far, and I thought I would work through them one by one and recommend them based on how well I liked them. Get ready to read!

Up first we have David Lodge's Changing Places. Unfortunately, this book only comes in a collection called The Campus Trilogy, but there are places to scrounge up an older, individual copy of the book. Some local libraries might even have it, considering Lodge is pretty popular for everyday audiences as well as university classrooms. This particular story follows the lives of two washed-up, middle aged professors as they trade continents, jobs, and even families. Morris Zapp, the hotshot American Jane Austen scholar who wants to divorce his wife, trades places with Philip Swallow, the uptight British professor who longs for the freedom of American life. Set in the chaotic spring of 1969 on the fictionalized version of UC Berkeley, Zapp wants so to get off of the hectic campus that he is willing to accept an offer from such an inferior university as Rummidge--the fictional equivalent of Birmingham.

Once there, he grows as a person through his relationship with both Mary Makepeace (an American woman escaping the patriarchal politics in America amidst the sexual revolution) and Hilary Swallow, Philip's traditional and loyal wife. Swallow, on the other hand, goes through a period of freedom that threatens to ruin him; a pizza and pot party followed by a one night stand with a girl significantly less than his age, stealing bricks to help the People's Garden, and eventually starts a steady relationship that throws the entire novel into turmoil. I won't give away the super important plot elements, but I was equally surprised and appalled by the twists and turns the story takes once we get introduced to the characters.

In Changing Places, Lodge pokes fun at that total freedom given by the sexual revolution and also explores the important other uprising happening on the Berkley campus in '69: the education revolution. Who really has power on a college campus? Is the classic existential question of complete freedom in everything really the best option for us? Really, is freedom without responsibility going to create moral people? Are people moral in the first place? These are the questions we talked over in my literature class, but never fear! This book has plenty of humor, sarcasm, and British wit to make it a pleasant read for anyone--whether you're looking for an intriguing read or a hilarious one, Changing Places will suffice.

Lodge himself (just look at how classically British he looks and smile a little--the eyebrows, the cute, smug look on his face!) is actually a professor of English who writes fictional stories in between critical books--something that I have always wanted to do. Maybe part of the reason I loved his work so much is because I want my life to turn out like his has, but I also think any of his stories are funny and engaging enough to capture a wider audience.

Reading this book, I fell in love with Lodge's prose style and his creativity. The epistolary section in the middle and the screenplay at the end show that he can master words in any form, which I completely admire. My only complaint is we don't find out what happens to the minor characters. Typical of my behavior, I once again attach myself to the smaller characters who I think deliver the message of the novel, and they are not even present in the ending! But maybe that's Lodge's way of saying not to worry too much about what a narrator says, but more about the act of imagining a story ending however you want it to end. And that, too, I can appreciate.

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