Writer’s Luck: A Memoir 1976-199

by David Lodge, Harvill Secker, 400pp, £25

One afternoon when I was an undergraduate reading English at university, I showed up for a supervision and the academic I was meeting confessed he’d forgotten to read my essay. Rather than send me away, he suggested a game. We would take it in turns to name a novelist and the other would put his thumb either up or down. I started: “James Joyce.” He gave a thumbs up.

“DH Lawrence,” he said. An easy one. Thumbs down. I decided to venture a contemporary author: David Lodge. He leapt to his feet, kicking over his side-table and a half-finished bottle of sherry, screaming “Thumbs down!”

Lodge would no doubt love this anecdote. Within literary, academic and, indeed, Catholic circles, David Lodge is a controversial figure who delights in annoying people. The reasons for this are explained fully in the frank and self-deprecating second volume of his memoirs, Writer’s Luck. When the first volume came out in 2015, some critics were dismayed by the Pooterish stream of inconsequential detail – “life was not entirely trouble-free … I had to have a tooth extracted … then Mary was stung by a wasp” – but Lodge has doubled-down for book two, which instead of covering 40 years of quiet achievement, spans a mere 16.

The reason why Lodge gets up the nose of so many novelists and critics – and he sportingly includes details from bad reviews from almost everyone in the literary establishment, including Paul Theroux, Peter Kemp, Blake Morrison, David Sexton and many more – is that his realism-plus-metafiction formula seems to some a reductive simplification. In many ways, he’s a commercial novelist disguised as a literary one, and it is less his borrowings from authors such as James Joyce and Henry James that elevate him than his popular success.

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