Honey, I shrunk the id

THERAPY by David Lodge, Secker £15.99

THE TITLE alone should be enough to warn the alert reader that this represents a new departure for David Lodge. Gone are such colloquial collocations as Nice Work and Small World; instead we have one of those terse, teasing titles - Providence, Possession, Innocence - which appear to pose the question, "What is this book about?", floating the hot-air balloon of a large abstract noun which the narrative brings smartly down to earth.

Gone too is the reassuring presence of Lodge himself as authorial master of ceremonies, setting and changing the scene and putting his puppets through their paces in the grand manner of a latterday Thackeray or Trollope. Instead we have a first-person narrative in the form of a journal written by Laurence 'Tubby' Passmore, a rich, happily married and professionally successful 58-year-old TV scriptwriter who is suffering from a mysterious pain in his right knee and a sense of anxiety and unease.

For these ailments, he is seeing a physiotherapist, a cognitive behaviour therapist, an aromatherapist and an acupuncturist, as well as his platonic mistress Amy, who is herself in analysis. It is Amy who introduces Passmore, who left school with two '0' levels, to the notion of existential angst, which helps him to understand his major problem, which is why he has a problem in the first place. But by the time he discovers Kierkegaard and the concept of Dread, his life has started to fall apart in more concrete ways as his wife leaves him and his hit TV show is threatened by the departure of the star.

It would be easy enough to imagine Passmore in a traditional David Lodge novel, his predicament compared and contrasted with that of quite a different 'type' - a penniless, anorexic Kierkegaard specialist, perhaps, with whom he collaborates on the screenplay of Fear and Trembling in Las Vegas. But here he is alone. Not only are there no other characters of any substance, there is, crucially, no other voice either. A section in the centre of the book which looks like a shift to other points of view turns out to be a series of imagined monologues written by him on the instructions of his shrink; and it is a measure of the book's failure that this realisation comes as a crashing disappointment.

In his earlier novels, David Lodge played with assurance and success to his considerable strengths as a writer: tight plotting, bold characterisation and acute social observation. Therapy seems almost like a conscious exercise in exposing his limitations. There is no plot to speak of, the characters filtered through Passmore's consciousness remain shadowy and notional, while the social commentary for which Lodge is justly famous is reduced here to a series of stale routines about how dirty London is these days and the privations of travelling by British Rail.

That leaves nothing much to fall back on except the writing itself, and David Lodge's style, while perfectly serviceable, is simply not up to the considerable task of sustaining interest in Passmore's personal problems - which seem to amount, finally, not so much to unhappiness as its British equivalent, uncomfyness - over more than 300 pages.

In the spare, structured framework of Nice Work such clichs as teeth like tombstones in a neglected churchyard or snowflakes swirling like a shaken paperweight passed almost unnoticed; but here the flatness of Passmore's maundering recollections and self-analysis rapidly becomes tiresome, especially as the fictional pretence that he is writing a personal journal is continually undermined by Lodge's need to flesh out his novel by having Passmore explain to himself the workings of a TV studio or make jokes about names (Marples/Marbles) selected for the very purpose of making such a joke possible.

That said, the ending involving Passmore's reunion with his first girlfriend is genuinely moving and credible (although the parallel with Kierkegaard's relationship with his jilted fiance seems forced - as ever, the professor in Lodge cannot resist drawing the reader's attention to such details. But it is a very long time coming, and would have worked even better as an episode in a book with other elements of interest, or at least differing perspectives on those on offer.

In an epigraph, David Lodge quotes Graham Greene to the effect that writing is a form of therapy''. Perhaps so, but readers - unless they are getting paid the kind of fees professional therapists command - are unlikely to be prepared to judge its success on that basis.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
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 Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game