David Lodge’s novels deal with the relations between academia and the outside world (“Laughing from the inside”, Features, 29 January). They are highly realistic in terms of detail but questionable for the values that they promote. In Nice Work, Robyn Penrose, a young lecturer in English literature, is supposed to be brought into the real world (industry) by shadowing Vic Wilcox, the manager of a small factory. She heartily dislikes the boredom and repetitiousness of industry, but the alternative to labour – automation – horrifies her (and her author) with its “lightless and blind” machinery.
The question is what values does academia have to offer against this? Robyn is typically book-making (and on the industrial novel, ironically) not because she has anything to say but because she wants to promote her career. Lodge is quoted on this: “Much academic publication is done merely to maintain the author’s position in the profession”, and he appears to endorse this “value” in his heroine. The novel fails in my view because it does not incarnate an academic world that supplies a satisfying alternative to industrialism. Lodge is said to be a satirist – but a satirist has to take a scalpel to things. He seems more like a Doc Martin – can’t stand the sight of blood.