Sunday, August 02, 2020

Therapy (1995)

David Lodge is a prolific British writer and literary critic, born in 1935. In Therapy he is witty, charming, and neurotic as he charts the midlife crisis of a successful 58-year-old TV writer, which seemed kind of old for a midlife crisis. Anyway, I'm sure this short and entertaining novel is not strictly speaking autobiographical, but Lodge was about 58 when he wrote it. Tubby Passmore is a certain ideal of the 20th-century urban nebbish. Woody Allen is an obvious model, though Tubby's physique departs from Allen's. But it's the same shtick. He's a pseudo-intellectual—a successful sitcom writer who becomes obsessed briefly with good old Soren Kierkegaard. He devotes most of his energy to trying to solve the woman problems he actively and repeatedly creates. He is heartbreakingly foolish, but rich enough to keep himself out of real trouble. The title is apt—Tubby not only sees a psychotherapist, he also has regular appointments for acupuncture, aromatherapy, etc. He'll try any therapy once. He has a semi-platonic relationship with a woman in analysis, and in many ways this arc of the story is toward a Freudian approach to identifying and resolving pesky and profound life problems. Therapy may be a bit hackneyed but it's also enjoyable and funny, like Tubby himself. I guess my main takeaway is being impressed again with how many British writers are so good. This is not even major in Lodge's canon—a "Campus Trilogy" seems to be what they all like. But Therapy is all I know by him. It's always competent and often inspired, even with its flaws. He reminds me some of the US writer Richard Russo, who is similarly prolific, witty, and just slightly insubstantial. Philip Roth may be the Cadillac version here. Though their obsessions seem superficial, they are gifted and funny writers, easy to spend whole days reading. In the end Therapy is a kind of foolish romantic fairy tale, but there are worse ways to pass a day. In style it ranges wide with numerous formal experiments. Mostly it presents itself as journal entries (a therapy exercise) but even within that Lodge can spring to surprising strategies, which are never confusing and often ingenious. He breaks the fourth wall a lot. He knows you know it's a novel and he seems interested in your opinion as he goes along. Not bad.

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