Friday, July 10, 2009

Review of the Day: Changing Places



In Changing Places, David Lodge’s 1975 novel, American and British college professors exchange teaching positions for part if the 1969 academic year. Mousy Philip Swallow finds himself basking in California sunshine in Berkeley, but embroiled in campus shenanigans, student protests, and an exciting new world of counterculture experimentation. On the other side of the Atlantic, Morris Zapp, a flamboyant and famous Austen scholar takes his new “red brick” college by storm, wowing the English Department as well as the wife of his colleague.

Lodge guides the reader along the crisscrossed paths of the two scholars, from one comical escapade to the next, but never shies away from the difficulties that arise. This is the type of story at which Lodge excels – examining how people react when outside events force them to reexamine what they believe in and hold dear.

He makes it funny, but the underlying dilemmas are as serious as they come. For example, the scene where Zapp realizes that his flight to England was so cheap because it was a charter flight of pregnant women taking advantage of Britain’s newly relaxed abortion laws, includes this passage:
For Morris Zapp is a twentieth-century counterpart of Swift’s Nominal Christian – the Nominal Atheist. Underneath that tough exterior of the free-thinking Jew. . . there is a core of old-fashioned Judaeo-Christian fear-of-the-Lord. If the Apollo astronauts had reported finding a message carved in gigantic letters on the backside of the moon, “Reports of My death are greatly exaggerated,” it would not have surprised Morris Zapp unduly, merely confirmed his deepest misgivings.
Religion? References to Jonathon Swift and Mark Twain (and, in the omitted section, T.S. Elliot)? Not typical fodder for a lighthearted novel, scenes like this makes readers laugh, but leave them with plenty to think about.

Lodge eventually followed Changing Places with a sequel called Small World (1984). He wrapped up his academia trilogy with Nice Work (1988).

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