Wednesday, 31 December 2014

SMALL WORLD by David Lodge

SMALL WORLD contains some of the same characters as the first book of the trilogy, but is to my mind a much less successful novel. It follows a bunch of academics around a series of conferences across the world. It was clearly written when international travel was still new and exotic, which makes it hard to relate to; but so does the sheer number of characters, and the many odd narrative arcs they are engaged on.

It's still enjoyably comic, which kept me going to the end. Here's his opening:
The modern conference resembles the pilgrimage of medieval Christendom in that it allows the participants to indulge themselves in all the pleasures and diversions of travel while appearing to be austerely bent on self improvement. To be sure, there are certain penitential exercises to be performed - the presentation of a paper, perhaps, and certainly listening to the papers of others. But with this excuse you journey to new and interesting places, meet new and interesting people, and form new and interesting relationships with them; exchange gossip and confidences (for your well-worn stories are fresh to them, and vice versa); eat, drink and make merry in their company every evening; and yet, at the end of it all, return home with an enhanced reputation for seriousness of mind.
Knowing quite a large number of academics, I have to say this is an entirely accurate analysis of conference attendance.

I often taken worthwhile life lessons from books, and here's a phrase from this one that I will remember, though it comes originally from William Hazlitt: "The art of pleasing consists in being pleased". This I find to be very true. There's nothing that makes you more attractive to other people than appearing to be happy yourself. It's perhaps not a recipe for total authenticity in human relationships, but there you go; nothing's perfect, and at least you'll be popular.

No comments:

Post a Comment