For me, Lodge is one of those writers who can make any subject interesting.That he happens to be a literary academic and novelist—thus mirroring my own two focal points of being a writer and a reader—is the best of all possible events. In this collection of essays, he focus on other writers—friends, acquaintances, subjects—and expanded my knowledge on many whom I simply recognized by name rather than having had any occasion to have read in the past. Of course, after these masterly introductions to them by Lodge, it should only be a matter of time before I rectify that situation.
One of the longer pieces here is an explication of how Lodge came to write his bio-novel of H.G. Wells, A Man of His Parts. I’ve been musing over writing a similar bio-novel for the last fifteen years, ever since finishing my first novel, but I’ve been stymied by my inability to find a structure that I felt I could hang it on as well as the daunting task of researching 1920s Richmond, Virginia. While Lodge didn’t solve my quandaries, he did provide me an insight into how I could possibly evoke the era without having to be chained to authenticity, as he set for himself for his two bio-novels. Leading off the essay, he describes a continuum between the biography and the novel—what he terms a “faction,” the co-mixing of fiction and fact—that gives an author a range that he or she can select that is no more right than what another might use. Of course, readers’ opinions may vary, and beware the writer who attempts to sell fiction as non-fiction (c.f., James Frey) or non-fiction as fiction (see also “I’ve suffered for my art and now it’s your turn,” a term from the Turkey City Lexicon to describe authors who let the details get in the way of the story).
Unlike another collection of author essays that I recently finished, I was never tempted in this volume to skim or skip an essay, even when the subject was more esoteric than I expected. Other readers may not have the same interest in this material, but for me, it left me wanting much, much more from Lodge.