Friday, January 20, 2006

Top 20 Books, #7


Lucky Number 7 on my List of Top 20 Books is Paradise News by David Lodge.

Huh?

I'm willing to bank on the fact that, compared to Toni Morrison's Beloved, this book is as obscure as a bartender's guide in a Mormon library.

What I mean is, I'm certain many of you may have never heard of this book, let alone its author.

However, I understand that BillyBlog readers have discerning tastes, so many of you may already heard of him. Hopefully, those of you who haven't will check him out if you haven't.

I first came across David Lodge in 1995, when his novel Therapy was favorably reviewed in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. After being blown away by this witty, British writer's humor and style, I went back through his catalogue and read most of his previous work. When I learned that Paradise News was set in Hawai'i, I dropped everything to read it.

When Lodge described his main character disembarking the plane in Honolulu and smelling, in the humidity, the mix of tropical flowers and jet fuel, I remember nodding and thinking, "Yes, he's got it!"

Lodge consistently infuses his tales with academia and Catholicism, so be prepared for that aspect. A synopsis of Paradise News reads (from Amazon.com):

"Bernard Walsh is planning a quiet visit to his sick aunt in Hawaii. A cynical ex-priest in search of a well-needed vacation, he is unprepared for this zany package tour from Hell populated with all the "types": dueling newlyweds, boring salesmen, video happy seniors, romance starved spinsters, and a sexy native girl on a collision course with fate (or at least Walsh's father). Lodge combines an interesting mix of viewpoints and writing styles, switching among characters and including such diverse approaches as diaries and postcards. Essential for anyone who loves to travel or wishes they could, this is highly recommended for vacation reading collections."

This narrative flexibility, in which Lodge deftly switches between narrative voices, is one of his greatest strengths, and is what hooked me when I read Therapy. He has written several novels featuring professors. One called Changing Places juxtaposes a stuffy English professor with his counterpart from Berkeley as they engage in a professional exchange program. This novel boasts a much-cited scene in which the professors play a party game called "Humiliation," in which each player is required to name the most important book they have never read, which would subsequently "humiliate" the academic. For example, I would imagine it would be humiliating for an American Literature professor to admit they had never read The Scarlet Letter. (For me, I would guess my book would be Moby Dick). But, I digress.

I would strongly recommend Paradise News, and other David Lodge novels to anyone, but especially Paradise News to folks familiar with Hawai'i. It is one thing to grow up there, but it is often hilarious to see the 50th state viewed through the eyes of aliens to the life and culture there, especially from those as far away as Britain.

If you are interested in more, you can read the beginning of the first chapter here.

2 comments:

Mellomouth said...

You never read Moby Dick! But Herman Melville went to my Junior/High School. You should see what he wrote in my yearbook!

Benjie516 said...

Wow. I'm going to have to read this book. Thanks Billy.