Thursday, January 17, 2013

'Author, Author' by David Lodge

17 January 2013

I've never read anything by Henry James – I don’t think I've even seen a film or TV adaptation of any of his novels – so I wasn't sure how interesting I was going to find ‘Author, Author’, David Lodge’s book about Henry James. I needn't have worried: you’re in safe hands with David Lodge. ‘Author, Author’ wears its research lightly and contains much invented dialogue but it still felt more biography than novel to me. It doesn't attempt a complete biography, and I found it intriguing that Lodge chose not to write about the creation of the early novels that made Henry James famous, nor about the late, great novels for which he is now best remembered. Instead ‘Author, Author’ focusses on the 1880s and 1890s when James is living in London and attempting, unsuccessfully, to conquer the London stage as a playwright. I guess “famous author writes successful novel” wouldn't have made much of a story. David Lodge has created a compelling tale which paints a rounded picture of a complex, flawed but extremely sympathetic character. Much of the book is centred around James’s friendship with the Punch cartoonist George Du Maurier (father of the actor Gerald du Maurier and grandfather of the writer Daphne du Maurier). George du Maurier (who created the famous ‘curate’s egg’ cartoon) comes across as a lovely man and a very good friend to James. But when du Maurier tries his hand at writing a novel and instantly achieves the kind of worldwide success, acclamation and fame that James can only dream of (with his debut novel ‘Trilby’ – which gave us both the eponymous hat and the notion of the ‘svengali’) their friendship is seriously tested. ‘Author, Author’ has a strong supporting cast as Henry James crosses the paths of a wide range of literary and theatrical greats including H G Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry, Oscar Wilde, Edith Wharton and a five-year old Agatha Christie. ‘Author, Author’ may be guilty of not knowing whether it is itself a novel or a biography but it’s a fascinating and engaging portrait of a revered author.



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