(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Souls and Bodies is a deceptively simple novel about the special rigors of growing up Catholic. It traces the lives of ten major characters over a twenty-six-year period, from 1952, when the novel opens, to 1978, when it closes with the installation of Pope John Paul II (and with the author’s, or authorial narrator’s, writing of the last chapter). The central event during these years, in terms of Church history and therefore in terms of these characters’ lives, is the convening of the Second Vatican Council. Part of the effectiveness of the novel derives from the way in which David Lodge interweaves fiction and history, the individual lives of his characters on the one hand and Church history and doctrine on the other, so that each is given equal importance and neither made subordinate. It is not only the private and the public, however, that Lodge weaves together so skillfully, but also the individual plots devoted to each of the major characters—plots that diverge in some respects and converge in others. Thus, the novel proceeds chronologically from 1952 to 1978, but the progression is anything but smooth as Lodge fragments the novel into the separate character plots that appear in each of the seven chapters; the resulting effect is less of continuity than of splicing as Lodge tries to answer the question his title (in the British edition) poses: How it was, how they lost their virginities, how things began to change, how they lost their fear of Hell, how they broke out, away, down, up, through, and so on, how they dealt with love and death, and finally, how it is.