Another wise, witty look at the human condition from Lodge (Author, Author, 2004, etc.).
Linguistics professor Desmond Bates’s increasing deafness led him to take early retirement from his university in a northern English city. So now, in November 2006, he has little to do beyond visit his elderly father in London and perform the routine chores his wife Fred no longer has time for, thanks to her thriving interior-design business. Accompanying Fred to a noisy party in an art gallery, Desmond politely says yes to a question he hasn’t heard from an attractive blonde. She’s Alex Loom, an American getting her doctorate at his university, and at a subsequent meeting Desmond learns that she wants him to supervise her research on suicide notes. He hastily declines, but Alex isn’t easily discouraged. She’s also a liar and plagiarist with some pretty kinky sexual ideas. Desmond hasn’t done anything wrong, really, but he’s anxious to keep Alex from becoming another issue between him and Fred, who’s already annoyed by his excessive drinking and his lack of enthusiasm for the socializing she enjoys. Meanwhile, his father’s mental and physical health worsens, and an awkward family Christmas gathering reaches its comically awful nadir when both of Desmond’s earpiece batteries go dead. Taking the offer of a British Council lecture tour in Poland, complete with a trip to Auschwitz, seems like a sensible means of getting away from his problems. Of course, his pregnant daughter gives birth and his father has a stroke while Desmond is in Poland. No summary can do justice to the artful blend of humor and poignancy with which Lodge delineates the musings of a man facing his own aging and infirmities (Desmond’s virility is almost as iffy as his hearing) as well as the impending loss of his father. Suffice it to say that the book is wonderfully funny and extremely moving as Desmond reaches new accommodations with the people he loves and finds new serenity in the face of mortality.
A pleasure from first to last: Lodge gets better and goes deeper in each book.