Friday, 4 June 2010
by David Lodge
Rediscovering an old favourite -- particularly one who is also an old master -- is a big slice of happy. And since reading Author, Author, after its years sitting on my shelf with pages unturned, I've been hankering (to hanker: an act of hankering: he is a hankerist) after a bit more of David Lodge.
Deaf Sentence is his latest, and I saw it for a brief time on the 3for2 tables in Waterstones. I'm glad I didn't talk myself into buying it, because I found it not much later in a charity shop. And the good thing about the charity shop is they didn't try to trick me into buying another two books I was only half-interested in, that would sit unread on my shelves until the next book clearout, like Waterstones always (successfully) do.
He is a master. Immensely readable, smart, subtle, moving, and effortlessly unfalse. I don't think there's any other author I can read and be less reminded that what I'm doing is reading something an author has contrived. Which doesn't really make sense, because the narrator in Deaf Sentence switches periodically between 1st and 3rd person, talks about how he is writing the book, and is clearly drawing very heavily from the author's own life for anecdotage. There's no other author who is so obviously authoring, either. Hmmm.
There's no central plot arch that continues throughout. Or if there is, it's not the one you'd expect. There are three or four different strands, some that impact on each other and some that don't, and none that is given quite enough priority over the others to be considered 'the plot.'
Instead there are sections presented as short stories, there are comic set-pieces, and similar essentially standalone parts that make up an incoherent whole. Incoherent in a good way, though. It's a book about deafness, after all.
The book stops, rather than ends. Not in an Infinite Jest way, but in a train-slowing-down-and-stopping-in-a-station way. The loose ends are tied up, but not necessarily to each other. It's just that the things that were happening aren't any more. And the narrator has a hand in them, but is not totally responsible. I'm not sure why that doesn't feel like an ending, but it doesn't.
And because it stops, and because there is no singularity to the plot, I will probably forget this book in the future. I will remember the 'males beware' character of Alex Loom, the unique crappiness of being deaf, and some of the funny scenes, but not the book.
I kind of like that about it. Things don't have to be important, or memorable, or even evidently significant within the world of the book. If they're well written, I'm probably going to enjoy it.