Small World

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This book is the second triumphant volume in David Lodge’s single-handed revival of the academic novel, the sort of comic expose of university life that flourished in the 1950’s. His earlier novel of this type--CHANGING PLACES (1975)--traced the hilarious adventures of two professors who exchange positions for a year: the ineffectual Englishman Philip Swallow and the high-powered American critic Morris Zapp. In SMALL WORLD, Lodge enlarges both the scope and the literary ambitiousness of his material but without losing the comic touch and human appeal of his earlier novel.

In this later work, Swallow and Zapp reappear as supporting characters to the central figure of Persse McGarrigle, a young Irish poet-teacher (and an academic and sexual innocent) who is instructed by Zapp in the bewildering new realities of the literary profession. “Scholars these days are like the errant knights of old, wandering the ways of the world in search of adventure and glory,” says Zapp, in explaining why professors now spend so much time globe-trotting from conference to conference rather than in the traditional pursuits of teaching and research.

While Zapp and a host of other satirically drawn international critics compete for their ultimate Grail (a $100,000-a-year UNESCO position that requires no work whatsoever), McGarrigle scours the conferences in search of Angelica, a beautiful and mysterious graduate student. Lodge deftly interweaves the many plot...

(The entire section is 434 words.)