Review: The Art of Fiction, David Lodge

This was a thought-provoking read featuring an elegant and eloquent deconstruction of the craft of the novel by well-known author and former academic David Lodge.  In fifty chapters, starting with ‘The Beginning’ and finishing with ‘The End’, Lodge uses passages from well-known fiction to illustrate various aspects of literature from ‘The Intrusive Author’, ‘Intertextuality’, ‘Magic Realism’ and more.  Originally appearing as a newspaper column in the early 1990s, Lodge warns that this is a book best enjoyed in a ‘dip in and out’ basis but given it was a library borrow for me, I had to take the whole thing in one go.  As a former literature student, this is the kind of book that holds a great deal of appeal – written as much for the novice as for the enthusiast, Lodge takes a complex topic and brings it down to ground level, all the while reminding us of the books we love.

Having dealt with academics who are extremely well-versed in their subject but who lack the ability to make themselves clear in everyday life, I was impressed by the way in which Lodge was able to make his subject so accessible.  It was interesting however to see the author’s own preferences sneaking into the book, with a heavy leaning towards James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and even (personal shudder) Virginia Woolf, none of whom are particular favourites of my own.  It did seem slightly strange to me that he also used his own books for examples, but then I can imagine how it may have been difficult to find accompanying extracts for the more obscure literary concepts.  However, his discussion of depersonalisation in terms of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette did cement further my determination to read that soon.  Hmm.  He also brought a few other authors such as Thomas Hardy closer to my attention so I have an unhappy feeling that reading this book is likely to only make my wobbling TBR pile totter even further.

Despite being written over a quarter of a century ago, very little about The Art of Fiction has dated very little – other than one observation Lodge makes when discussing the decline of the epistolary novel, when he postulates that the arrival of the fax machine may cause it to have a renaissance.  Little could he know that email is only a few short years away.  I found it useful as a revision exercise – reading as widely and as speedily as I feel that I can sometimes get wrapped up in the plot and forget to stop and appreciate the artistry which has gone into the crafting.  I can see too though how Lodge is quite right that this is perhaps not best appreciated as a library book, that it is a book to have on the shelf and check every so often.  Definitely a book for those who love literature, The Art of Fiction was a very interesting read – I imagine it as the kind of newspaper column that I would have looked out for every week.  I had not realised before how much I have missed reading literary criticism!



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The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
Published by Random House on April 30th 2012
Genres: Literary Criticism, Semiotics & Theory
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781448137794

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4 thoughts on “Review: The Art of Fiction, David Lodge

  1. For a change a book I have already read, not only that but I read it when it was first published (you frighten me by saying how long ago that was) and I read the original newspaper articles (as it is those articles collected together.)

    I agree with all you say about it, and is as entertaining as Lodge’s novels.

    You will notice in the introduction, assuming they have used the same one from the Penguin edition of 1992, that one chapter ‘Chapters’ replaces the original article published in The Independent on Sunday. At the time Lodge wrote a further article in the newspaper to explain, the missing one is about ‘Plagiarism’.

    In that piece he wrote about how a recently published novel had a very similar plot to his own ‘Nice Work’, and he discussed how whether this was deliberate or just how when writing the mind reflects things you have read in the past. The writer concerned, Pauline Marshall, sued Lodge for libel arguing she had never read ‘Nice Work’. More about this is in this article

    1. That is interesting – the issue of common ancestry in various different works would have been interesting to explore but I can see why that chapter had to come out! This has been a book that I’ve been meaning to read for years, although I think I’m happy enough now that I borrowed rather than bought it. It felt like a good refresher course for the ex English student!

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