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  • The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge
  • Robert S. Burton
Robert A. Morace. The Dialogic Novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1989. 249 pp. $24.95.

There is a fresh spirit about the British novel these days; seemingly, it has rebounded from criticism frequently heard in the 1950s and early 1960s pointing to its staid conventionality and antiexperimentalism. As practitioners, critics, and teachers of the freshening trend, Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge are intriguing members of the contemporary British literary establishment. It is, therefore, a welcome sight to have a book-length study that addresses not only the singular achievements of these writers but also their combined contribution to the post-World War Two British novel.

Robert Morace's thesis is that Bradbury's and Lodge's novels can best be appreciated through Bakhtin's theory of narrative dialogism: novels are necessarily engaged in dialogue with themselves and also with the full range of social and cultural artifacts that surround them. The result is a joyful and carnivalesque polyphony of voices that mesh and intersect in interesting ways. Bradbury and Lodge, Morace argues, are not only self-conscious about their assimilation of Bakhtin's ideas, enacting them to produce cautious yet innovative novels, but also during the last twenty-five years have engaged in thoughtful dialogue with one another about their own fictions and the state of the modern British novel.

Certainly, Morace's analysis of the authors' recent novels (Bradbury's The History Man [1975] and Rates of Exchange [1983], Lodge's Changing Places [1975|, How Far Can You Go? [1980], and Small World [1984]) is thorough, richly allusive, and rewarding. Focusing on Bradbury's "expansiveness" (his ability to cull from wide-ranging sources and voices) and Lodge's "narrative doubling" (his incorporation of sometimes contradictory points of view and aesthetic and philosophical problems into his narratives), Morace convincingly suggests that Bradbury and Lodge have "continued to keep realism alive . . . by steadily renegotiating the terms by which realism can continue to be made viable." The thesis, however, does not work as well for earlier novels such as Bradbury's Stepping Westward (1965) or Lodge's The British Museum Is Falling Down (1965) where the authors seemed more intent on writing rather conventional stories splashed with comic irony; the chapters on these novels, therefore, seem strained rehearsals for Morace's later treatments of Bradbury's and Lodge's more playful, self-conscious fictions.

Nevertheless, this is an incisive, eloquent, and insightful study of two increasingly popular writers. Bradbury and Lodge are still relatively young, are still productive and prolific in their critical and fictional output. If Robert Morace's book can successfully publicize their achievements, and, in passing, the achievements of Bakhtin as a literary critic, it will serve all of us well in and outside the academy. [End Page 628]

Robert S. Burton
California State University at Chico


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