Changing Places by David Lodge

One fine day, when I was done with all the books borrowed from the library and didn't have anything tempting to read from my own collection, my friend lent me the book A David Lodge Trilogy. I had never heard of the author before, but was sure it will not disappoint me since I and my lending friend share similar tastes for books. The trilogy contains three books: Changing Places, Small World and Nice Work.

David Lodge is a British author and has more than 20 books to his credit. His latest book, Deaf Sentence, was released in 2008. His work, Small World and Nice Work were shortlisted for Booker prize and were made into television series later on. How Far Can You Go? won the Whitbread Book of the Year for 1980.

Changing Places is about Philip Swallow, an academic working at Rummidge University and Morris Zapp, Professor and an expert on Jane Austen at Euphoria University. As part of their exchange program, these two gentlemen swap places and assume the job of the other. Swallow is excited with this as he gets an escape from his drudgery, his wife and his kids. He remembers the time when he visited America last and he looks forward to having a wonderful time alone at the States. Zapp, on the other hand, is already tired with his journey and has agreed to this only because his wife has agreed to postpone their divorce if he moves out of their house for six months.

As the both of them settle down with their new jobs and surroundings, they also experience some amount of cultural shock. While Rummidge is a small, rural town where all the people live like one big, family, Zapp misses his night clubs and adventures. Swallow is overwhelmed with the freedom in Euphoria. Both the gentlemen end up having an affair with the other's wife. Some incidents and events in both the places make them want to stay on in their new place rather than go back to their previous lives.

The initial pages of the book took me by surprise. The fine characterization, witty lines, sarcastic humor reminded me of Tom Robbins, another favorite (humor) author of mine. This is the best part of the book. The humor quotient of the book dips as the story progresses. Each chapter of the book is structured in a different way. While the first chapter is laid out like the usual prose, we see another chapter written out in the form of a play and yet another like a script. The author was bringing in some humor no doubt, but it didn't work for me. I felt the author was trying too hard. He should have stuck to the prose structure and tried to add more wit to his story. The book also ends in an ambiguous way where the story just stops abruptly and the reader is left to wonder what happened. I personally don't like stories which end up being happy ones just to please the readers. Any deviation from this is welcome.

Another thing which I really liked about this book is the portrayal of cultural difference. Lodge, being British himself, has had the nerve to laugh at British and Americans alike. In the second chapter especially, where we see Swallow and Zapp settling down in their new places, the contrast that the author draws between the two characters and settings is amazing. Be it the lifestyle (Mrs. Swallow complains that Zapp visited her late at night where as it's just evening), culture (Mrs. Swallow is too polite to ask Zapp to leave), night life (Melanie and her parties), academic life (Swallow has not published any papers, yet he is a lecturer) - all these are so well brought out that I sometimes laughed at myself. I could see the similarities between our culture and the British and I just had to laugh and shake my head in amazement.

At the end of the day, the question is do I recommend this book? I say yes. It's an entertaining book, not a thought-provoking one and serves its purpose of making people laugh. So, go ahead and read it.