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David Lodge is justly revered as both one of the best comic novelists of recent decades and as a writer who explores serious moral themes through his satire. Folks then were somewhat disappointed when this novella was published, because it's not quite up to the standards of his novels. Perhaps they're being a tad fanatical.

As Mr. Lodge acknowledges up front, Home Truths began life as a play and for purposes of this novelization he did not make major alterations. This leaves it with all the unnaturalness of theater--a single setting, just four characters, and a reliance on dialogue--despite the new format. You can either accept the limitations this imposes and be grateful for a chance to read an awkward but worthwhile piece that wasn't coming to a theater near you anytime soon, or you can dwell on the matter and not enjoy the book.

Adrian Ludlow is a somewhat accomplished but now mostly silent author who's "retired" to an isolated English cottage with his wife, Eleanor. Over breakfast one morning they agonize over, and thrill to, a newspaper interview their old friend, screenwriter Sam Sharp, gave to an up and coming journalist, Fanny Tarrant, who's made her reputation by eviscerating the self-absorbed celebrity subjects of her profiles. A representative sample from the story on Sam reads:
The first thing you notice about Samuel Sharp's study is that it's plastered with trophies, certificates and citations for prizes and awards, and framed press photographs of Samuel Sharp, like the interior of an Italian restaurant. The second thing you notice is the full-length mirror on one wall. "It's to give the room a feeling of space," the writer explained, but you can't help thinking there's another reason. His eyes keep sliding sideways, drawn irresistibly by this mirror even while he's speaking to you. I went to see Samuel Sharp wondering why he had been so unlucky in matrimony. I left thinking I knew the answer: the man's insufferable vanity.
It gets worse. But the truth is even these old friends are enjoying seeing him get his comeuppance, because he is just as vain as he's made out to be in the article.

However, Sam soon arrives at the cottage and enlists Adrian's help in a scheme to get back at Ms Tarrant. Adrian will submit to an interview too, but even as he's being profiled he'll secretly profile her and sell the resulting hatchet job to a rival paper. The middle portion of the book--Act II, if you will--consists of the counter interviews. Ms Tarrant turns out to be not only quite attractive and a decent enough sort but also an unabashed fan of Adrian's best known novel. Adrian remains guarded as he digs into her life and eventually convinces her to try his sauna. Eleanor, who'd not wished to be a party to the charade, arrives home at a guilty-looking moment and, when Adrian is out of the room, simply unloads on him to the eager journalist. In particular, she's devastating in regards to the difficulty that his inability to duplicate the success of that early novel had on their home lives. She tells a number of painful pent up truths, but tells them to someone who may now share them with the whole world.

In the final act, Sam and Eleanor and Adrian,, who's stopped speaking to his wife entirely, anxiously await the arrival of the paper that will have the dreaded profile. But as they wait Ms Tarrant shows up unexpectedly. Unbeknownst to the cottagers it's just been announced that Diana was killed in a car accident while trying to escape the paparazzi, so no one's likely to read or remember a profile of forgotten novelist Adrian Ludlow. Unfortunately though, Ms Tarrant just happens to have a second piece in that morning's paper, one that's particularly harsh towards the suddenly martyred Princess.

Mr. Lodge brings forward a series of interesting points here. There's the strange nature of our celebrity culture, which sees oceans of ink and film devoted to people who are rarely worth knowing about and who, more often than not, have done nothing of real value. As Fanny Tarrant says:
I perform a valuable cultural function. [...]

There's such a lot of hype nowadays, people confuse success with real achievement. I remind them of the difference.
But there's also a strange symbiosis between the celebrity and the journalist such that there's truly no such thing as bad publicity and the supposed exposer of the ugly truths about the rich and famous ends up being just another celebrant. And what surprises all of them, people who should be wise to the rules of the game if anyone should, is how much they are affected by news of Di's death:
As the sound of the TV news coverage became audible, Adrian sat down on the chaise lounge to watch with the other two [Eleanor and Sam]. "I don't know," he said. "A death can make a difference. Even the death of someone you never knew, if it's sufficiently..."

"Poetic?" said Sam.

"Yes, actually," said Adrian. "Arousing pity and fear, whereby to provide an outlet for such emotions."

"Good old Aristotle!" said Sam. "What would we do without him?"

"We pity the victim and fear for ourselves. It can have a powerful effect," said Adrian.

"Be quiet, for heaven's sake," said Eleanor, who was sitting between them. "I can't hear what they're saying." A representative of some relief agency was discussing the Princess's work for victims of landmines with the anchorman.

"You think we're in for a national catharsis, then?" Sam said to Adrian, leaning back and speaking behind Eleanor's back.

"Conceivably," said Adrian.
And when the papers finally come, with a story about their own lives, they stay glued to the TV instead.

A full novel would have given Mr. Lodge an opportunity to spin out his own ideas about the strange vicarious lives we lead--where a modern nation can become obsessed by the murder trial of a former football star or by the death of an oft scorned royal--but he at least presents some questions for us to ponder. And, like all his work, it's very amusing. If you approach the book with a willingness to accept it for what it is, you'll certainly enjoy it.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B)

  

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British (Post War)
David Lodge Links:

    -EXCERPT: from Consciousness and the Novel by David Lodge
    Politics by Another Means (DAVID LODGE, 5/04/05, NY Times)
    -EXCERPT: Sense and sensibility : For centuries, science and philosophy have grappled with the mystery of our inner life. But, argues David Lodge, it is literature that has provided the most accurate record of human consciousness (The Guardian, 11/02/02)
    -TRIBUTE: He was my literary twin: David Lodge, Bradbury's colleague and contemporary at the University of Birmingham, mourns the loss of a prolific and versatile man of letters (David Lodge, November 29, 2000, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: A guide to life: Which is the book that has taught you most about what life is really like? Continuing our series, the novelist David Lodge chooses James Joyce's Ulysses (Daily Telegraph, 10/03/2001)
    -ESSAY: Shlock horror: The recent decline in the quality of drama can still be reversed (David Lodge, November 19, 2001, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of One Fat Englishman Kingsley Amis (David Lodge, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Charles Dickens by Jane Smiley (David Lodge, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of The Reader in the Text: Essays on Audience and Interpretation by Susan R. Suleiman; Inge Crosman (David Lodge, Poetics Today)
    -INTERVIEW: David Lodge: Deeply exploring A.I. and the I Kenneth Baker, 11/03/02, SF Chronicle )
    -INTERVIEW: with David Lodge (RAYMOND H. THOMPSON, 15 MAY 1989, Thompson's Interviews with Authors of Modern Arthurian Literature)
    -Interview with David Lodge: Art must entertain, or give delight (LIDIA VIANU, Desperadoe Literature)
    -INTERVIEW: David Lodge interviewed by Trevor Lockwood (Arts Council of England)
    -INTERVIEW: David Lodge: How far has he gone? (Ros Taylor, Spiked)
    -David Lodge (Contemporary Writers)
    -David Lodge (1935-) (Literary Heritage)
    -ESSAY: David Lodge Thinks ...: The British novelist of ideas takes on the literary implications of 'consciousness studies' (SCOTT MCLEMEE, 11/01/02, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    -ESSAY: Just think of that : Is there a tiny bit of me in David Lodge's clever new novel? I think . . . not (John Sutherland, March 12, 2001, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Sacraments and Snogging: Novelist David Lodge (Amy Welborn)
    -ESSAY: ARTHUR KINGFISHER (in Small World by David Lodge) (The Fisher King)
    -ESSAY: Academic Englishness: formation of national character in David Lodge's campus novel (Flaminia Nicora, British Arts Council)
    -ARCHIVES: David Lodge (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: "david lodge" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Home Truths by David Lodge (Tony Mastrogiorgio , SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Home Truths (James Hopkin, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Home Truths (Natalya Minkovsky, Baltimore City Paper)
    -REVIEW: of Consciousness and the Novel by David Lodge (Christopher Tayler, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Consciousness and the Novel(Galen Strawson, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Consciousness and the Novel (Adam Kirsch, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Consciousness and the Novel (Nick Groom, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Consciousness and the Novel (Kenneth Baker, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks by David Lodge (LISA ZEIDNER, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Jack Miles, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (John B. Breslin, America)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Ian Sansom, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Vanessa Thorpe, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Brooke Allen, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Tony Mastrogiorgio, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Maria Russo, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Kevin Walsh, Spike)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (STEVEN E. ALFORD, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (David Young, AISB Quarterly)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (George Thomas, Literal Mind)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Keith Phipps, Onion AV Club)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Michael Paulson, Book Page)
    -REVIEW: of Thinks (Emily Hall, The Stranger)
    -REVIEW: of Therapy by David Lodge (Rebecca Radner, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Therapy (Scott Stossel, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Therapy (Kate Tuttle, Book Wire)
    -REVIEW: of How Far Can You Go? By David Lodge (Anthony Campbell)
    -REVIEW: of Nice Work by David Lodge (Literary Heritage)
    -REVIEW: of The Practice of Writing by David Lodge (George Cowmeadow Bauman, Book Page)

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