Perpetual Succour 3, 40 Martyrs nil

THERAPY David Lodge Secker & Warburg £15.99

"I'm game for almost any kind of therapy except chemotherapy" - so confesses Laurence Passmore, depressive narrator of David Lodge's new novel. What's wrong with him? To all appearances Laurence, or Tubby as he's known, has got the lot; he's making a mint from the television sitcom he writes, drives a nifty Japanese sports car, commutes between his des res in Rummidge and a chic pied terre in central London, and still has sex with his wife after 30 years of marriage. What he hasn't got is peace of mind, or any explanation of the blinding pains he's had in his right knee; ergo he spends a fortune on a variety of experts - physio- therapists, acupuncturists, aromatherapists, cognitive behaviour therapists - who, he hopes, will tell him why.

So, more mid-life crisis, though less in the manner of Martin Amis's The Information than of the tortured monologue of Joseph Heller's Something Happened (1974). Compare Tubby's "somewhere, sometime, I lost it, the knack of just living, without being anxious and depressed. How?" with a moment from Bob Slocum's aria of mid-life, middle management anguish: "Something did happen to me somewhere that robbed me of confidence and courage and left me with a fear of discovery and change". Nobody is exactly sure what the root to Tubby's malaise might be ("I don't know" is the novel's constant refrain), though his shrink reckons he's suffering from a loss of self esteem and, at her suggestion, he starts keeping a journal, writing itself being a kind of therapy. It is also, for Lodge, a kind of challenge, primarily of his imaginative flexibility. In most of his fiction hitherto, including his industrial novel, Nice Work, at least one central character has been an academic, and therefore a convenient mouthpiece for the author's current intellectual preoccupations, while the conference circuit allowed him to break out of the study into the hotel bedrooms.

Therapy tries to tilt the perspective slightly. Laurence Passmore is a writer, but of comedy scripts rather than conference papers: with his two O-levels he's strictly University of Life material. One suspects Lodge conceived him as a liberation, a chance to impersonate a self-taught, canny, blokeish type with plenty of money to throw around - a chance to do reflectiveness in a non-professorial key. The results are mixed. On the one hand, Tubby's eager consultation of dictionaries and reference books to enrich his word-power feels absolutely right, the hunger of an auto-didact. On the other, his allusions to Larkin and his sudden interest in the works of Kierkegaard seem improbable. The narrator's mask keeps slipping to reveal the novelist. Much worse, however, is the narratorial fast one Lodge pulls halfway through. A portion of the book is devoted to testimonies from other characters (Tubby's wife Sally, his best friend Amy, his producer, his assistant etc.), which are subsequently revealed as monologues dreamed up by Tubby as a therapeutic exercise. The effect is disastrous: at a stroke it diminishes all the supporting characters, whose private motivations are, we're asked to believe, completely within Tubby's imaginative grasp. It recalls a similarly feeble trick that misfired in Paradise News, Lodge's last and least interesting novel; you feel it might be time for him to drop the metafictional gimmickry.

Yet just when the novel appears to have ran out of gas, it flares unexpectedly, and brilliantly, back into life. During a session of aromatherapy, Tubby gets a whiff of lavender that opens the floodgates of memory - and, praise be, neither he nor Lodge feels compelled to make galumphing reference to Proust. It elicits a long and tender reminiscence of boyhood during the Fifties, and specifically of Maureen, the Catholic schoolgirl who was his first love. The 15-year-old Tubby cuts quite a different figure from his present-day angst-ridden self - not tubby at all, in fact, but a talented footballer and budding comic actor. His shy courtship of Maureen is set against a narrow suburban London of trams and Brylcreem, of dances at the Catholic youth club and Sunday afternoons with parish football teams providing scorelines like "Immaculate Conception 2, Precious Blood 1 or Perpetual Succour 3, Forty Martyrs nil." That Lodge has roamed this territory before - principally in How Far Can You Go? - is of little consequence; the depth of feeling and exactness of detail lend these pages an impact unmatched anywhere else in the book, or indeed anywhere else in his fiction.

It is only the uneven patchwork structure of Therapy that allows it to accommodate this memoir, but its effect on the remainder of the book is astounding. Tubby finds that the answer to his spiritual crisis lies, as these answers usually will, in the past, and the novel turns from a maundering, mid- life bellyache into an elegiac comedy of remorse and redemption. It does nothing less than save the book. That it needed saving indicates something of a crisis in Lodge's own direction as a novelist. Readers will find here a measure of what this writer does best - beady- eyed observation of contemporary faddishness, gruesomely funny set-pieces and an affectionately sceptical take on the business of being a left-footer. But they will also find some mightily implausible sleights of narration and a central character who feels a shade too effortfully drawn. Lodge evidently intended to sniff the air outside academia; you get the idea he enjoyed it for a while but then started reading Kierkegaard and lost the plot. As a long-time fan I felt uneasy: you want to be on his side, but how far can you go?

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game