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
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders