BOOK REVIEW / If only you had faith: The Picturegoers - David Lodge: Penguin, pounds 4.99

THE PICTUREGOERS, originally published in 1960 and now reissued as part of a Penguin first novels promotion, nearly had David Lodge marked down as an angry young realist of the Sid Chaplin / Alan Sillitoe school. 'Love and brute desire . . . cynicism and faith' yelps the jacket of my 1962 Pan paperback, 'a compassionate, realistic and even shocking novel of urban Britain today'. The 1993 blurbwriter has settled for a more sober excursus on the 'realities of city life' and 'a flickering backcloth of celluloid fantasies', but in fact the urban backdrop is something of a decoy. While the novel's wider structures take in a collection of people who turn up each Saturday night at the Brickley Palladium, a seedy cinema in the seedier part of south-east London, its chief quarry is that very rare animal, the question of religious belief, here dramatised in the persons of Mark Underwood, a cynical lapsed Catholic undergraduate, and Clare, the highly devout daughter of the Catholic family with whom he lodges, lately released from her novitiate and contemplating the confusions of the secular life.

Initially their courtship follows a predictable pattern. Though attracted by Mark's witty, world-weary languor, Clare is discomfited by his designs on her body and by his flippant agnosticism ('Mark . . . if only you had faith'). Subsequently the customary 'Catholic' theme of sexual proscription inverts: Clare begins to spend less time at the altar and ponders anew the sins of the flesh, while Mark attends mass, joins in a pilgrimage and wonders whether he might not have a vocation. In the next clinch on the staircase it is he ('No, Clare') who turns aside.

To a modern sensibility untroubled by spiritual conscience, all this might seem simply ridiculous. Such is the strength of Lodge's writing and the intentness of his grappling with motive that the moral dilemmas have a sense of genuine conviction. Only the denouement - Clare's mother finds Mark's porno-fantasy diary about her daughter and promptly bars him from the house - seems slightly forced, an arbitrary line ruled beneath the story rather than an aesthetically satisfying conclusion.

If there is an unseen hand lurking behind these accounts of smoky, peanut-strewn courtships in the three-and-nines and prowling teddy boys it is Richard Hoggart, whose investigation of changing working-class cultural styles, The Uses Of Literacy, was published three years before. A self-conscious cultural tourist ('In the Mallorys he felt he had rediscovered the people') Mark is nevertheless appalled by the people's expression of their cultural preferences: 'the popular art he looked for to accompany this rediscovery was sadly lacking', he decides after a visit to the Palladium.

Fans of Lodge's later novels will find much that is familiar here: the usual armfuls of parody, the literary allusions, the mildly sentimental ending in which Clare subsidises the honeymoon of two other cinema-goers whose wedding she is invited to witness. In a nervous introduction the author offers it up as 'a curiosity, a piece of apprentice work'. This anxiety is misplaced. Despite its tyro gaucheries and the minor characters who fail to come off - notably the stage-Dickensian cleaning ladies - The Picturegoers' appeal derives as much from the quality of the writing as for its absorption in a bygone way of life.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas