Book: Changing Places
Changing Places is the first of three “campus” novels written by Emeritus Professor of English Literature, David Lodge. Set in 1969, the story line focuses on two very different academics: one more reserved, less distinguished and seemingly unquestionably very dull lecturer from the UK, and a somewhat more salubrious, eminent and “enjoying life to the full”-counterpart from the US, both taking part in a six months exchange program between their universities (the somewhat thinly disguised Birmingham and Berkely). Both experience quite a culture shock when they arrive at their respective host institutions: The American being mostly contempt of what he perceives as amateurish British academia, while the British participant is overwhelmed by the American way of life. As the story progresses, however, both start to settle into their respective environments – and as it so happens start to have an affair with the other’s wife – even contemplating staying permanently in their new homes.
The book starts of with a strong depiction of cultural differences – and I found the first chapters the most enjoyable to read. Lodge succeeds in characterizing both US and UK academic culture in a way that is more than a little tongue in cheek, while sufficiently realistic (even today) to make me laugh at some of the occurrences. Of course, many things described have changed from the late 60s – but I’m sure every academic will recognize a few common and still contemporary themes. Although the readability of the book remains, the humor lessens considerably as the author progresses the story, focuses less on the cultural differences – and somewhat irritatingly changes to different writing styles in each chapter, seemingly without purpose (e.g. one chapter is written as a theatre play, one as an exchange of letters etc). This is really the only downside of the book, as it is a very enjoyable read – with a very lively characterization of academic (and) cultural differences on both sides of the Atlantic.
At the end of the day – is it an enjoyable book? Well, definitely yes . It’s an entertaining “Tale of two campuses” as the book proclaims, and probably of two cultures colliding – and realizing that both are not as alien as it seems.
The book is available as a print edition – and from the 29 Feb also as a download for Kindle.