June 2001


By David Lodge
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alph Messenger is a cognitive scientist with a fondness for cheating on his wife and ruminating on the nature of human consciousness. Helen Reed, widow and moderately successful novelist, arrives at the fictional University of Gloucester to teach creative writing, where she finds herself gradually drawn into the Messengers' social circle and Ralph's romantic snare. Thinks might sound like an ordinary novel of infidelity, but in the hands of critically acclaimed English novelist David Lodge (Therapy, Home Truths), it evolves into a shining book, by turns witty, charming, sobering and honest. Lodge employs three narrative voices, two of which are the highly subjective reflections of its protagonists, the third an objective narrator. These disparate voices work particularly well, since the novel spends a good deal of time focusing on the debates between Helen and Ralph regarding consciousness.

Infidelity laces the story. Ralph maintains a tacit understanding with his American-born wife, supposedly limiting his affairs to brief encounters while at academic conferences. Other characters indulge in adultery as well. These dalliances aren't so much judged as examined under a critical lens, either literary or scientific. In fact, the entire novel might be considered a dialogue between these two views of consciousness. Lodge has done his homework, supplying ample information about the latest research conducted by cognitive scientists.

The story also succeeds in its frequently comic, sometimes grim depiction of modern English university life. The University of Gloucester houses a diverse collection of academics, though none stray into stereotype. Lodge deftly adds depth to each character, no matter how briefly they appear on the novel's stage. He keeps our attention not only with multiple narrators, but by sporadically straying from traditional literary conventions. He includes, for example, an e-mail correspondence between Ralph and Helen; on other occasions, he presents us with writing exercises produced by Helen's students, which constitute some of the funniest pieces in this delightful novel.

Michael Paulson teaches English at Penn State University.

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By David Lodge
ISBN 9780670899845

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