Sunday, 4 December 2011

Changing Places

Just before my 40th birthday, I had the feeling (all men have, I suppose) that I might have missed something out as I was going through the path of life. 

The book I am going to post about has been in three different shelves for the last fifteen years. The pages are yellow and the cover is worn out by the pass of time. I read only 40 or 50 pages when my teachers asked me to read it in 1994, but my nostalgia has made me read it in the whole now. I think it was not my chance that characters in the book are around my age.

Two university professors, Mr. Phillip Swallow (the British one), coming from the imaginary city of Rummidge (probably Birmingham), and Mr. Morris Zapp (the American one), coming from Euphoria State (probably California), decide to swap their positions for six months in 1968. Literature is their field and, one way or the other, they both seem to be obsessed with Jane Austen. Once they arrive, they get involved into different universes and universities, where surprising coincidencies, misunderstandings and ridiculous situations give the story an humorous tone that keep you amused and entertained for the time you spend reading it. Thus, the author, David Lodge, portraits his own personal experience as Literature professor in both places.

Secondary characters are particularly important and influencial in the lives of both as they make them follow alternative paths in their life experience. In the one hand, Swallow is bored with his family life, routines and duties are suffocating him. He has got the feeling he hasn't made any progress in life and is not attracted by his wife any more. In the other hand, Morris is in the process of getting divorced and going to another country is a childish behaviour to get away from his daily problems.

Some other characters like Charles Boon, a radio station host who was formerly one of Swallow's students or Wily Smith, a civil rights activist and well known rioter, make the humorous point in the story.

At some point each of them get to know people who were previously on their respective social circles. They even have sexual relations with each other's couples or daughters (Swallow sleeps with Melanie, Zapp's daughter).

The book is divided into six sections: The first one tells us about their experiences as they both fly to their destinations. The second section describes in detail the people and places they know. The third section is made of letters that each character sends or receives from people (mostly family). The fourth section is made out of newspapers articles in which they are represented one way or the other. The fifth section talks about their decision (or not) to go back home, and to end up with, in the last section, they decide how and when they are coming back home...(or not).

The places and timing are also central to the story: civil rights, the hippy movement, Vietnam war protesters, twentieth Century modern industrial societies (previous to ICT technologies) are clear examples for this. Academic life in particular is also analized in detail all through the book.

Fifteen or seventeen years later, I really had a good time reading this book. It has also given me the opportunity to watch Mr. Lodge in several videos in Internet. I hope not to have ruined anyone's reading.

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