Author! Author!

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9780141018225: Author! Author!

Framed by a dramatic and moving account of Henry James's last illness, Author! Author! begins in the early 1880s, describing James's friendship with the genial Punch artist, George Du Maurier, and his intimate but problematic relationship with fellow American novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson. At the end of the decade Henry, worried by the failure of his books to sell, resolves to achieve fame and fortune as a playwright while Du Maurier diversifies into writing novels. The consequences that ensue mingle comedy, irony, pathos, and suspense. As Du Maurier's novel Trilby becomes the bestseller of the century, Henry anxiously awaits the opening night of his make-or-break play, Guy Domville. This event, on January 5, 1895, and its complex sequel form the climax to Lodge's absorbing novel.

Thronged with vividly drawn characters, some of them with famous names, Author! Author! presents a fascinating panorama of literary and theatrical life in late Victorian England. But at its heart is a portrait, rendered with remarkable empathy, of a writer who never achieved popular success in his lifetime or resolved his sexual identity, yet wrote some of the greatest novels about love in the English language.

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Review:

Since the death of Malcom Bradbury, David Lodge remains unquestionably the finest comic novelist working in the English language – with fierce intelligence matching the sardonic wit. Author, Author is not quite a new departure (the great novelist Henry James was a presence in Lodge’s much-acclaimed Thinks…), but here The Master is the central character in a brilliantly vivid picture of the man and his times.

Those who find James’ own abstruse sentences too impenetrable for their taste may fear that Lodge is aiming for a recreation of James' allusive 19th century style, but that's definitely not the case. When Lodge has James speak, it is, of course, exactly as we would expect the famous chronicler of suppressed emotion to speak – anything else would be a failure (Peter Ackroyd carried off a similar act of ventriloquism in The Lat Testament of Oscar Wilde), but the style of the novel is very much Lodge's own: humorous, sensitive to all aspects of human behaviour, rich in authentically recreated period detail. Needless to say, the effect is nothing like that of Lodge’s contemporary novels such as the wonderfulNice Work and Small World; for some, that will be a cause for disappointment, but for readers prepared to follow Lodge on this journey into another century, the rewards are considerable.

Author, Author begins with the Great Man’s death, surrounded by worried servants (struggling to cope with his growing irrationality); then we are shown his remarkable life, including his friendship with the affable Punch illustrator George Du Maurier. The literary success and the American ex-pat James’ social lionising by the cream of London society are strikingly conveyed, as is the man’s sexual repression. The most powerful passages involve James’ disastrous failure as a playwright, and this section crowns Lodge’s achievement. Lodge fans may prefer his customary style, but there are riches here. --Barry Forshaw

Review:

A bold new departure for Lodge... his portrait of Henry James explores an interaction of fragility and strength, delicacy and force. ("The New York Review of Books")

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