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Thinks by David Lodge - Book Review


David Lodge

Fiction-Net Rating 4 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

Ralph Messenger is a man who knows what he wants and generally gets it. Approaching his fiftieth birthday, he has good reason to feel pleased with himself. As Director of the prestigious Holt Belling Centre for Cognitive Science at the University of Gloucester, he is much in demand as a pundit on developments in artificial intelligence and the study of human consciousness - 'the last frontier of scientific enquiry'. He enjoys an affluent lifestyle, subsidised by the wealth of his American wife, Carrie. Known to colleagues on the conference circuit as a womaniser and to Private Eye as a 'Media Dong', he has reached a tacit understanding with Carrie to refrain from philandering in his own back yard.

This resolution is already weakening when he meets and is attracted to Helen Reed, a distinguished novelist still grieving for the sudden death of her husband more than a year ago. She has rented out her London house and taken up a post as writer-in-residence at Gloucester University, partly to try and get over her bereavement.

Fascinated and challenged by a personality and a world-view radically at odds with her own, Helen is aroused by Ralph's bold advances but resists on moral principal. The stand-off between them is shattered by a series of events and discoveries that dramatically confirm the truth of Ralph's dictum, 'We can never know for certain what another person is thinking.'

We Say

I wouldn't be surprised if most readers were put off by the whole premise of this book. The central characters are approaching middle age, they drift around the banal concrete world of a modern university and they talk about the way people think. They discuss experiments in human consciousness and what makes us all different and totally unfathomable. One is a philandering professor and the other is an insecure writer (is there any other kind?). However, if you do happen to be put off by these things - don't be. David Lodge has the ability to make this an intimate and fascinating story.

Despite the complexity of the overall theme, Thinks is about the reality of human behaviour rather than the result of an experiment that might be found in one of Ralph Messenger's Labs. Both he and Helen are ultimately fragile beings, capable only of responding to life in the way that instinct tells them to. Their relationship is played out with such sincerity that the surprises are heartbreaking, funny and hopeless just as they would be in real life. There are a few dramatic shocks along the way and a couple of cliff-hangers towards the end.

The style is brazenly skilful. David Lodge mixes it up to give the reader a view from every angle. There are long monologues as Ralph narrates his feelings into a Dictaphone, Helen keeps a journal and there are e-mails between the two of them. Interspersed with these are chapters in third person narration which describe events from both characters point of view. In the hands of a lesser writer, this variation may have seemed forced and artificial but Lodge manages to diligently weave the threads together without any visible joins.

Thinks is a rarity - an intelligent book with a great story and convincing characters.

Review by: Rachel Taylor

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