August 30th, 2009
David Lodge is one of my favourite authors. Every book of his I’ve read I have enjoyed thoroughly. The first was Changing Places. A revelation. I read it at a time when I had difficulties to read: I couldn’t concentrate and could never muster enough interest to finish a single book. This I read from cover to cover in very few sittings. The characters were very engaging. The structure of the book felt revolutionary to me, the story was lively and humour was everywhere. I remember laughing out loud from the very first page. David Lodge instantly made my top ten and, fluctuating as it is, he is still there now. Later I read Thinks… which I enjoyed just as much, even though I had got used to Lodge’s style and was not so surprised. Next came the follow up to Changing Places, Small World, which was a bit of a let down: it was not as good as Changing Places, some events were too unlikely and its length didn’t do it justice. Therapy was good and it made me discover that Lodge could be melancholy as well as uproariously funny. Which more or less announced his latest book, Deaf Sentence. That was a wonderful read. At the time I thought it was his first truly autobiographical story: the hero is going deaf and his father’s health if of great concern to him. I had read in articles that Lodge had written from his own experience of going deaf and that his father had died not too long before. All this was confirmed during a reading he did at the American Library in Paris in September 2008.
But at the time I hadn’t read Out of the Shelter. This book having been published nearly forty years ago now, I couldn’t find much information on it, apart from some reviews dating back to 1984 when the book was republished. The most complete and trustworthy information is indeed the afterword to the 1984 edition written by Lodge himself. There he explains what’s autobiographical about his novel and what’s not.
Out of the Shelter is basically a Bildungsroman about a young boy, Timothy, born a few years before WW2. The first part is about his life in London during the Blitz, told from his point of view, which is that of a five year-old. His world is narrow and his view on the war is very patriotic. Timothy has a much older sister, Kath, who lives in Germany where she works for the American army. In the second part of the book, Kath offers Timothy to come to Heidelberg for three weeks during summer. Timothy hesitates because he’s never been further than the English seaside and is scared of going so far away on his own. But his boring and solitary holidays with his working-class parents finally push him to accept the offer and go to Germany. There he will awaken, both emotionally and intellectually. American-occupied Germany is full of wonders: no rationning, and Kath and her American friends lead a glamorous life, full of parties, restaurants, drives in sports cars and cocktails. In the end, sixteen year-old Timothy will even find “love” with a young American girl.
I really enjoyed this book. Timothy’s discovery of a larger life is interesting and the writing really reflects the opening of his mind. I also learned about post-war England and the rationing that lasted much longer than in other countries. The life of expat Americans was fascinating, in a shallow way. They didn’t mix with the Germans and lead a comfortable life right under their noses.
I am going to read more books by David Lodge, especially his early ones. They’re always very finely written and yet easy to read: language just flows and the plots are interesting. You should do the same!