Sunday, July 3, 2011
Therapy by David Lodge is basically one middle-aged man's journey through a mid-life crisis. As far anyone else can see Laurence "Tubby" Passmore has it all. The good life. He may be almost bald and shaped like a pear, but he writes for a TV sitcom that keeps the money "rolling in like [he's] discovered oil in the backyard." He's got a beautiful house in Rummidge, the car of his dreams, a flat in London, a sexy wife with a healthy libido, and a platonic mistress with whom he can discuss anything and everything. So what's wrong? He Doesn't Know. (This becomes the little theme chant for the book.)
He's depressed and he doesn't know why. Ironically, he knows he has it made and has no reason to be depressed, but he constantly doubts his decisions and is just sure that things are going to go wrong--even though he hopes they won't. He is, as his most recently descovered favorite philosopher Kierkergaard puts it, an unhappiest man. The unhappiest man is one who has gratifying disappointment. What is gratifying disappointment, you might ask. It's when you worry about making decisions and try to guard against things turning out badly. You hope they'll turn out well, but even if they do you don't really notice because you've made yourself too miserable worrying that they won't. And when they don't turn out well, it proves you were right all along. Which is gratifying--so, in essence it makes you happier when you're disappointed.
The more depressed he becomes, the more his life falls apart. He already has mysterious pain in his knee that keeps him from being as active in sports as he had been. His wife decides she can't take it anymore and asks for a divorce. He's asked to write a beloved character out of the TV sitcom and when he refuses to do it in the manner the powers-that-be require a small-print contract clause is waived at him. If he refuses, they can bring in another writer. He finally decides that all of his troubles come from the way he treated his first girlfriend and he goes on a pilgrimage to find her and put things right.
This is not David Lodge at his best. Lodge at his best is witty and literate and laugh-out-loud funny. He can take serious subjects and make you think seriously about them even as you're laughing at the characters--or sometimes even at yourself. He can make you interested in the characters even when they're not particularly likeable. If you'd like to give him a try, go for Paradise News or Small World or Changing Places. Give this one a miss. Tubby is a whiny, self-absorbed man. He's not funny and his situation is not funny. I didn't really care if he figured out why he was depressed or even what was wrong with his knee. That's what I missed most in this novel--the connection to the characters. Two stars--mainly because, overall, Lodge is such a favorite of mine.