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Exodus, By Lars Iyer. Melville House, £10.99

 

Following Spurious and its sequel Dogma, Lars Iyer's Exodus concludes his witty trilogy about two errant academics, Lars and W., loosely based on Iyer himself and a fellow philosophy lecturer. Set in austerity-era Britain, the novels place this comic double act against a bleak backdrop of cuts to higher education. Throughout the three books, the bickering pair aspire to "pure thought" while being buffeted by market forces. Dogma saw W. lose his job, but by the beginning of Exodus he has been reinstated, in time for "our last lecture tour… the last dog and pony show".

Their gin-fuelled sojourn shows how much Iyer's work has matured. The final book paints a richly grotesque panorama of Britain, from Manchester to Middlesex. Much comedic energy stems from close attention to location. "Staines – what a name for a town!" says W. "Egham – it's unbearable!"

Although critics have likened Lars and W. to a lineage of literary "frenemies" (think Don Quixote and Sancho Panza), Exodus's surer sense of place makes them seem less like abstract archetypes. This movement from the universal to particular is echoed in the book's bathetic humour. Profound flights of thought are brought back to earth by droll banalities. "The apocalypse is upon us!" W. proclaims. He proposes a toast, only to find "the college bar's stopped serving".

Iyer's characters are absurd idealists, forever comparing their "thought" to past figures, and finding it wanting. Unlike their beloved Blanchot and Kafka, they have "failed as thinkers". But might they succeed "as activists?" Their passage from contemplation to action peaks in an occupation of W.'s university, where philosophy has been restructured as sports science; "badminton ethics". But the planned grand finale falls short.

Like its predecessors, Exodus cleverly explores the tensions between desired transcendence and depressing reality. Ultimately, this imbues their story with unexpected emotion; even beauty. Just as Iyer's jokes return us to earth, his trilogy finishes with a simple, hopeful scene: the sea, seen from Plymouth, "glinting like utopia".

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