Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The narrator’s overt presence in the novel at once comforts and disconcerts the reader: comforts insofar as he explains and authenticates his fiction but disconcerts in that he disrupts the continuity of the narrative dream, of the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief; in this way, he calls into question the “reality” of the fiction, a tactic which further serves to call the reader’s reality into question as well, raising the possibility that it, too, may be a fiction and only a fiction. Thus, although Lodge’s narrator speaks in a generally avuncular voice that recalls that of William Makepeace Thackeray, his presence reminds the reader more of postmodern than Victorian fiction. Lodge may not go nearly so far as John Barth, for example, or Donald Barthelme, but he nevertheless makes narrative self-consciousness an important element in his novel both as technique and as theme. By making the reader aware of the choices that he, the authorial narrator, makes in, for example, the naming of his characters and in ascribing to them certain symbolic meanings, he forces the reader to become more attentive not only to the text he is reading but also to his own interpretive choices. Lodge’s prose style serves a similar purpose and has a similar effect. Simple yet artfully self-conscious, it seems to invite the reader’s acceptance and understanding even as it repeatedly disrupts its own narrative flow by means of the numerous “authorial” intrusions and even its own artful simplicity, which seems at once to reveal and conceal. It is a pseudo-catechetical style in that it pretends to provide the kind of clear-cut, straightforward answers to the simple question “how far can you go?” in the same manner that the catechism used in Catholic religious indoctrination does: “Who made me?”; “God made me”; “Why did He make me?” and so forth. What Lodge does is to imitate and to complicate this confident catechetical style, in this way undermining its authority and the reader’s confidence in it and what it teaches.

Having achieved a similar degree of autonomy, Lodge’s...

(The entire section is 860 words.)