Monday, October 20, 2008
How Far Can You Go? by David Lodge is a fascinating, anthropological novel following the lives and religious development of a group of English Catholics from their days in a college church group in the 1950s, through the tumultuous years of the sexual revolution.
The friends question their religious tenant and traditions as they face marriage, families, religious callings, sexual identity, and mortality. At the same time, the Catholic Church wrestled with Vatican II, the battle over contraception, internal reform efforts, and the charismatic movement.
The title jokingly refers to the question the young Catholic men asked their priests about “How far can you go with a girl?” But more substantively, the book asks how far the Catholic Church can alter its rituals and adapt to modern mores and still remain the Catholic Church. Or how far individuals can abandon their religious customs and personalize their faith and still remain Catholics or even Christians. On a different level, the title refers to how far a novelist narrator can insert himself into the story and still count the book as a novel.
This is an absolutely intriguing novel. It won the Costa (Whitbread) Award for best novel in 1980. Anthony Burgess included the book in his list of the best 99 novels since 1939. Catholics (whether they lived through the changes depicted or came along after), other Christians, and general readers interested in religious cultures should find it mesmerizing.