In his ‘Afterword’ to The British Museum is Falling Down, David Lodge shyly admits to the reckless telephoning to the media he indulged in when – much to his understandable concern – not one single review about the aforementioned novel surfaced in the pages of the press.
I write this because the idea of such a sweet yet thought-provoking book going unwritten about bewildered me a little bit (and lo and behold, I was sat down just seconds later, pen and paper in hand to rectify the matter). Thankfully, Lodge explains that this was due to the fact that mysteriously the review copies that had been sent out did not make it to the editors. Presumably, my opening statement is also an example of a ‘long sentence’; much like those analysed by the novel’s protagonist – Adam Appleby – in the thesis he is compiling at the Reading Room of The British Museum. It is entitled ‘The Structure of Long Sentences in Three Modern English Novels’. Although, this is not a novel of course, so I digress.
However, Appleby’s thesis plays an important role in the structure of the narrative because one of the main cruxes in the novel (that is exploited for simultaneously comic and quasi-tragic effect) is that ‘life imitates art’: an argument buttressed by Lodge’s usage of the aphorism as one of the novel’s epigraphs. This is not only true for Appleby’s rather objectively painted miserable existence, but also for the narrative technique. In his ‘Afterword’, Lodge explains:
“There are ten passages of parody or pastiche in the novel, mimicking (in alphabetical order, not the order of their appearance in the text) Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, James Joyce, Franz Kafkha, D.H. Lawrence, FR. Rolfe (Baron Corvo, author of Hadrian VII), C.P. Snow, and Virginia Woolfe.”1
With some dose of hurt literary pride, I have to admit I did not identify all the authors in the list as I was reading – some only in retrospect, after I had read the ‘Afterword’.
Amidst the series of unfortunate events the anti-hero Appleby has to wade tentatively through, the most stomach-wrenching for him is his unmoved mover of crises – the Vatican’s stance on birth control. In his treatment of this, Lodge’s style seems to fluctuate between humorous and serious nodes. This technique proves successful in adding a tangible element of realism that compliments well the fantasia of the narrative technique.
Whilst this style seems to work well, the application of it can leave something to be desired. I am a firm believer in the power of the comic to expose the non sequiturs and hollow rhetoric that people blindly accept and abide with daily, but I think that at times the end-product is too superficial – even if the book does not seem to aspire to the top ranks of the literary canon. Having said this however, there are some brilliantly written, laugh out loud funny parts that make the reading experience thoroughly enjoyable. The creative competition Appleby finally participates in is particularly amusing, and I sincerely hope he wins the “new three-piece suite or £100 in cash”.2
Theoretically, you stand a fine chance of doing so if when asked to “‘Write the second line of a rhyming couplet [for a promotional advert] beginning: I always choose a Brownlong chair’” 3, you come up with a brilliant punchline instead.
Theoretically. Or not.
1 David Lodge, The British Museum is Falling Down (London: Vintage Books, 1965) p. 171
2 Ibid., p. 12