Paradise News

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Paradise. From an old Iranian word, pairi-daeza (pairi, “around” + daeza, “a wall”), for the shah’s private playground park. Borrowed by ancient Greek (paradeisos, “park,” “garden”) and used to translate the Hebrew Bible’s Garden of Eden. Extended by Christian usage to describe the home of the blessed dead (Late Latin, Paradisus, “heaven,” “abode of the blessed”). In modern advertising, a favorite term for tourist traps. These are some of the meanings that British writer David Lodge plays with in his ninth novel, Paradise News, before he suggests his own definition.

Lodge is best known for his entertaining satire, particularly of academic literary life, in such novels as Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses (1975) and Small World: An Academic Romance (1984). He himself taught in the University of Birmingham’s English department from 1960 to 1987 and has written or edited several notable volumes of literary criticism, including Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature (1981). A Roman Catholic, he has also addressed timely Catholic concerns in his novels and admires his Catholic predecessors Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Their respective influences can be seen in Lodge’s satirical and cinematic approaches. All these elements—the satirical, the scholarly, and the Catholic—are evident in Paradise News.

In Paradise News, as elsewhere in his fiction, Lodge shows his acquaintance with recent literary theory not only through deconstructive play with meanings but also through play with narrative techniques. Most of the novel is narrated in the third person, from the main character Bernard’s point of view. Part 2 (out of three) suddenly switches to first person, via a long journal section in Bernard’s words and a shorter letter section in the words of his fellow travelers. The narrative switch gives a refreshing break, introduces some humorous new perspectives, and enables poor Bernard to tell his dull life story, under the guise of a combination apologia pro vita sua and love letter. The novel’s beginning and ending also incorporate some playful techniques: The beginning introduces most of the principal characters through the eyes of two travel-tour representatives, who never reappear except on videotape—another interesting perspective—while the ending includes part of a lecture and a long letter.

Lodge’s techniques here might sound complicated, but they actually make his novel easy to follow. For one thing, they help him to manage a Dickensian abundance of characters and a similar variety of perspectives, moods, and subjects. They also allow him to embed retrospective exposition (such as Bernard’s life story) in straightforward action. Finally, they contribute to unifying the novel around a simple Hollywood-style plot device, the story of a Travelwise Tour of Britons to Hawaii.

The novel begins at London’s crowded Heathrow Airport as two Travelwise representatives, one experienced and jaded, the other young and learning the ropes, greet passengers booked for the tour and size them up. Without being obvious, the beginning echoes various literary classics: the opening of a Shakespeare play, with minor characters setting the dramatic situation, or the prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with its introductions of the pilgrims. The sense of religious pilgrimage reverberates ironically in the Heathrow scene, which could be out of Dante’s Inferno or T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The parallel is made explicit by Sheldrake, the novel’s travel expert, who argues that “tourism is the new world religion” and has written a book about “the sightseeing tour as secular pilgrimage.” Each of the secular pilgrims here seeks something good for the soul, even if it is only what the young representative in his crude accent calls “the free esses…sun, sand and sex.” Just as Chaucer’s religious pilgrims can be bawdy, so these secular pilgrims can have their semireligious moments.

The lineup of tour...

(The entire section is 1718 words.)