David Lodge - The British Museum is Falling Down
I hope this review finds you well.
You will be delighted to know that I've just finished to read The British Museum is Falling Down that juvenile novel of yours which, although widely ignored back in 1965, later became one of the most successful books you wrote.
Dave, you know how I like pretty much everything you wrote (apart from literary criticism, but that's my Achille's heel) and I would like to be frank with you as I've always been: this novel disappointed me.
Perhaps, it's more my fault than yours.
I assume I just read The British Museum is Falling Down too late. If I had not become familiar with books of yours such as Paradise News, Nice Work, How Far Can You Go? and the whole epic of professors Swallow and Zapp in the meantime, I would have probably enjoyed far more this third novel you wrote.
Alas! Being a big fan and a proud owner of most of your novels, I cannot say I liked this one. I hope you will take my humble opinion not as mere criticism, but more as a friendly reprimand.
In your afterword, you call The British Museum is Falling Down your "comic" and your "experimental" novel. Well, I'm afraid that both aims were not fully fulfilled here.
On the one hand, this novel is funny but never very funny. There is satire, yes, and there is farce, I reckon, but always in a very mild manner without going as far as you could (and you did 15 years later in How Far Can You Go?, hence the title).
The most plausible aspect of the protagonist, Adam Appleby, is - oddly enough - his own name. We never know how Adam manage to feed and clothe his own family including a housewife and three kids without having any sort of job so that his spasmodic seek for an occupation at the end of the book, doesn't really make sense. Are four kids so much dearer than three, I wonder?
On the other hand, the characters who pop up in "A Day in the Life of Adam" (which had this novel being written in 1967, would have been a perfect title) are drawn in a very childish way.
Argentinean butchers with their fingers hewn? A man named Camel? (Catholic symbolism? If so, where is the eye and where is the needle?) A Catholic debate society discussing contraceptives? A seventeen years old girl molesting a married man? (beware of the feminists!).
My dear Dave, let me tell you that you could have done so much better!
It's not that all these people are not funny in their own way, it's just they don't really fit here and cannot stand the comparison with most of the others you created as a novelist.
You were young when you wrote this novel, Dave, therefore some naivety can be understood and even forgiven (I know how much you like this verb), but then if what you wanted to deliver was merely a comic novel, why making it heavy with a stream of consciousness at the end, I wonder?
In that afterword of yours, you wrote that you were trying to find a literary stratagem for finishing the book "with a climactic parody in a single stroke". But, Dave, Barbara here is no Molly Bloom and the only thing these two women have in common is that they had their period, as you stated. Well, honestly Dave, do you believe this coincidence justify your choice? I don't think so.
All that said, David my lad, you managed to make me smile even here but mostly in a primary school style (Kingsley Anus! C.P Slow!) than in the scholar-like fashion you are so good with.
I am sorry if this review of mine sounds too harsh, Dave.
I hope you will understand what led me to give The British Museum is Falling Down only a pass degree.
I am now looking forward to hearing more from you.
Cheers and take care
PS: Have you heard the last joke on ol' Benny the 16th? Oh, it would amuse you!