David Lodge is a novelist and critic and Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham, England. His novels include Changing Places, Small World, Nice Work, and A Man of Parts. His most recent works of criticism are Consciousness and the Novel and The Year of Henry James.

Behind the Smoke Screen

If Graham Greene had never published any novels he would surely be remembered as one of our century’s finest book reviewers, film critics, and occasional essayists. In 1953 he wrote a characteristically shrewd and witty review (originally published in The New Statesman and reprinted in Reflections) of the first volume …

The Heart of the Obsession

The book begins: I was standing by the window in the Plaza Hotel, looking out. Below—ten stories below—I could make out round-faced women in ponchos standing on the sidewalk of the city named for peace and renting out cellphones to passersby. At their sides, sisters (or could it be daughters?) …

The Prime of Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark, 1965
Muriel Spark published twenty-two novels in her lifetime, in spite of beginning relatively late at the age of thirty-nine, and at least half of them are classics by the only criterion that really matters—they invite and reward repeated reading. She was the most original and innovative British novelist writing in …

The Subtle Touch

County Clare, Ireland, 1954; photograph by Dorothea Lange
Novelists seldom retire willingly. Usually it is forced upon them by a dearth of ideas or rejection by publishers, depressing experiences when one’s sense of identity and self-esteem, not to mention income, is intimately involved with the continuing production of new books. But those who manage to go on writing …

‘The End of Heaven’

When I first heard that A.L. Kennedy’s new novel was about a tailgunner in an RAF Lancaster bomber in World War II, I was frankly astonished. Nothing in this writer’s previous work or life, as far as I was acquainted with them, apart from the fact that she writes quite …

‘Bad Behavior’ & Kingsley Amis

This book runs to nearly a thousand pages, including 116 pages of notes (many of them substantial). Does its subject deserve this enormous biographical effort and corresponding demand on the reader’s time? Whether you immediately answer “Yes” or need to be convinced will depend very much on your age and …

History Boy

This collection of autobiographical essays, family memoirs, diary extracts, and other occasional writings was published in England in October 2005 to warm and widespread applause in the press, and by the end of February 2006 had sold well over 300,000 copies in hardback. That remarkable figure was achieved partly with …

The End of the Affair

Norman Sherry’s Life of Graham Greene has occupied him continuously and exclusively for twenty-eight years, which may be a record of some kind. Greene died in 1991, having correctly predicted that he would not live to read the second volume (published in 1994). He also prophesied that Sherry would not …

Goodbye to All That

After Theory, by Terry Eagleton… Anyone who served on the academic front of the culture wars in the closing decades of the twentieth century is likely to prick up his ears and experience a kind of mental salivation at this conjunction of author and title. “Theory” (with a capital T, …

Disturbing the Peace

This novel (as one must call it for want of a better word) requires, and rewards, at least a second reading, but even then its import remains ambiguous, partly because of the way it mixes and transgresses generic conventions. Elizabeth Costello consists of eight chapters and a postscript, though the …

Happy Birthday!

The Times Literary Supplement is one hundred years old this year. In 1997 Derwent May was commissioned to write a history of this venerable publication to mark the centenary. He was well qualified for the task, being an experienced literary editor, who himself worked on the TLS as a young …

Sick with Desire

Philip Roth’s output of fiction in the seventh decade of his life has been astonishing for both quality and quantity. It has been to critics and fellow novelists a spectacle to marvel at, an awe-inspiring display of energy, like the sustained eruption of a volcano that many observers supposed to be—not extinct, certainly, but perhaps past the peak of its active life. One might indeed have been forgiven for thinking that Sabbath’s Theater (1995) was the final explosive discharge of the author’s imaginative obsessions, sex and death—specifically, the affirmation of sexual experiment and transgression as an existential defiance of death, all the more authentic for being ultimately doomed to failure.

Waugh’s Comic Waste Land

The early novels of Evelyn Waugh have probably given more pleasure to more readers than any comparable body of work from the same period of English fiction (1928-1942). I discovered these books myself in adolescence. I was, I think, fifteen when my father put into my hands a tattered Penguin …

Bye-Bye Bech

When writers write fiction about writers and writing they brace themselves, nervously or defiantly, for an adverse response from friends, colleagues, publishers, and, in due course, reviewers. They expect to be told that such a project is incestuous, narcissistic, self-indulgent, and of no interest to anyone but themselves. But when …

O Ye Laurels

First, a little cultural archaeology, for the story behind this publication is almost as interesting as its contents. It begins in England in the late 1970s, when a young American expat called Bill Buford purchased the title of a languishing Cambridge University magazine, Granta, and relaunched it as a literary …

Confessions of a Literary Man

In my opinion, and that of many others, Frank Kermode is the finest English critic of his generation. There is a semantic flaw in that statement, since Kermode was born and brought up on the Isle of Man, a small, mountainous island moored in the choppy Irish Sea halfway between Liverpool and Belfast; and Man is not a part of England, or indeed of the United Kingdom, but a British dependency, with its own parliament, laws, and language (now almost extinct). However, to call Kermode the finest Manx critic of his generation would be a paltry compliment, since not many of its population of approximately 70,000 are professionally engaged in literary criticism; and in any case he has made his distinguished career as a teacher and scholar in the English departments of English universities.

The Lives of Graham Greene

For obvious reasons, literary biography tends to focus on the parallels between its subject’s life and work, but sometimes the discrepancies can be just as interesting and revealing. In The Quiet American, for instance, Greene shackled his hero, Fowler, with an estranged wife who, because she is a devout Anglican, …

Writer’s-Writer’s Writer

Henry Green occupies a special but somewhat puzzling place in the history of modern English fiction. That his real name was Henry Yorke is symbolic of the general elusiveness of his literary identity. He seems to stand to one side of his fictional oeuvre, smiling enigmatically and challenging us to …

Lawrence in Love

“There were several million facts of Lawrence’s short life and long work, of which Dubin might master a sufficient quantity. He’d weave them together and say what they meant—that was the daring thing. You assimilated another man’s experience and tried to arrange it into ‘thoughtful centrality’—Samuel Johnson’s expression. In order …

Hermits and Fools

Robertson Davies started writing novels fairly late in life, and has come into his prime as a novelist at an age when most men are glad if they can summon up enough energy and concentration to read a book, let alone write one. Born in Thamesville, Ontario, in 1913, he …

Outrageous Things

One of the privileges of maturity and distinction in the world of letters is the power to bestow accolades on younger writers. Such gestures are disinterested only in a materialistic sense. They are always interventions in literary politics, attempts to influence literary taste, rituals of succession, and they carry an …

The Marvelous Boy

Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770) is one of the great enigmas of English literary history. Born posthumously the son of a humble Bristol schoolmaster and brought up in straitened circumstances by his widowed mother, educated at a charity grammar school and apprenticed to a lawyer as a scrivener, Chatterton fabricated between the …

The Home Front

“You can put anything you like in a novel. So why do people always go on putting in the same thing? Why is the vol-au-vent always chicken?” Thus spake D.H. Lawrence (in his essay, “The Novel,” in Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine). Julian Barnes is a writer worth …

Closing Time

Kingsley Amis’s first novel, Lucky Jim (1954), did more than inaugurate a British version of the campus novel already established by Mary McCarthy and other American writers. It made its author, willy-nilly, the standard-bearer for a whole new school of British novelists, who refused the mythopoeic streams of consciousness of …