1988, 277 p.
I often find that my response to a book is largely influenced by the book that I read immediately before. For example, I found myself quite unable to pick up another fiction book for some time after reading War and Peace, and sometimes I want to get my teeth into something really meaty after reading some self-indulgent fluff. In this case, I came to David Lodge’s Nice Work as a face-to-face bookgroup read after just finishing the challenging (on all levels) A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. I must confess that much of the joy in reading this book was Lodge’s masterful, urbane and instantly comprehensible prose. In comparison with the book that I read immediately preceding it, this one just flew off the page.
David Lodge, as a former Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham, is well placed to turn his wry, satirical eye to red-brick university life in his ‘Campus Trilogy’ comprising Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses (1975), Small World: An Academic Romance (1984), and this book Nice Work (1988). In this book, flame-haired feminist academic Robyn Penrose, trying hard to get a tenured position at the University of Rummidge (a thinly disguised Birmingham), agrees to be involved in a job-shadowing scheme as part of improving links between the university and the workplace. She is allocated to Vic Wilcox, the manager of an engineering firm. I think that you can guess what happens….
And it does, and to a certain extent there’s a reassuring predictability about the plot. What I really enjoyed about this book, though, is Lodge’s satirical but penetrating analysis of his characters. He’s not kind about either of them, but he does not lack affection for them either. Robyn is immured in the postmodernist sludge served up by Derrida and Kristeva that makes me shrivel up inside, while Vic Wilcox is one of those buttoned-up, slightly pathetic middle-aged men who might be driving his small company car next to you at the traffic lights at 8.00 a.m.
Not content with mere waspishness, Lodge has literary fun in the book as well. The epigraphs that separate the multiple parts of this book are sprinkled with quotes from 19th English novels, most particularly Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, and there’s quite a bit of North and South in this book as well. It’s enjoyable without knowing any of this, but for those in on the joke, it adds another layer as well.