Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Changed Times

I started reading a book for fun last night, something that's rarer than you might thing. 

For some reason yesterday, I wanted to try rereading a comic novel I'd read back in grad school, so I got it out of the library. 

It's set in 1969, and begins with one of the main characters, a male, on a charter airplane from the US to London, wishing he were allowed to smoke his cigar, and realizing that all the other passengers are women.

The main character immediately knows why.  Do you?


I didn't remember this detail, which makes me think I didn't find it striking when I first read the book, but now I find it striking (along with the characters smoking cigarettes on the airplane).

If I were setting a comic novel in 1969, this isn't the detail I'd think to put in, if you know what I mean.


The Tour has a rest day today, and I'm hoping one of you will suggest a more modern comic novel for my reading pleasure.  I'll let this rest a bit, and then eventually talk about the detail in the comments, and tell you the novel.


  1. OK, so, when I read this, I picked up a novel off my desk that I have not yet read (I got it from a used book store earlier this summer) with a hunch that it might be the one you're talking about. I skimmed the first chapter, and--it is! The very same! 1969, airplane with only women on it (and a character who famously smokes cigars).

    Oddly, this is the second coincidence regarding this particular author that I've encountered this summer. I bought this book along with a Margaret Drabble novel, which I read last month; in it, there's a scene where two characters strike up a conversation on a plane because they're both reading the same novel by the author of Comic Novel (that is, the author of the book I'd bought along with the Drabble novel). And then they have a conversation about intertextuality, which was just perfect.

    I don't particularly love Comic Novel Author--I've read one more of his books--but they're moderately amusing, and sometimes moderate amusement is what one needs.

  2. Wow, what a coincidence!

    I remember this novel being funnier than I'm finding it now. I have theories about that.

  3. Anonymous11:21 AM

    No I don't know why and I am dying to know.

  4. And I'm dying to know what novel it is. Don't think it's david lodge...

  5. Susan, it is actually David Lodge's *Changing Places.*

    The women have all bought a charter package including an abortion, spa stay, and a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon.

    Were there abortion flight charters back in the 60s? I don't know, but Lodge certainly suggests so. I didn't remember this detail from when I read the novel before, and wonder why? Did I figure it was the 80s, and no USian women had to worry about access to abortion? Was I really so confident? Or naïve? Or unaware?

  6. I never knew about abortion flight charters, but I'm sure there were. Just as there were divorce flights: when my parents were divorced, my mother flew to Texas (I think), and crossed the border to Mexico to get the divorce, and my impression was that it was a regular business.

    I liked Small World better than Changing Places.

  7. Anonymous7:41 AM

    By coincidence, I recently read _Changing Places_, which I picked up for a quarter at Salvation Army. I thought several times that it seemed so disturbingly more misogynistic than the other books of his I remember. I was made quite uncomfortable by that, really, and it lessened my enjoyment of the meta-fictional elements of the novel that I think are really quite smart and funny and interesting. I couldn't help but wonder if some comedy becomes less funny the further you get from it in time--and if that changes at some point so that temporal distance is less a topic for discomfort and more an opportunity to appreciate the text as cultural relic of modes of thinking.. I'm an Americanist by trade, but I wonder if Shakespeare's comedies have a similar trajectory? Is there a point at which they are seen more as stale, even slightly embarrassing, narratives of outmoded and offensive ideas? If so, when did that attitude change, and why? If not, why not?

    And yes, comparing Lodge to Shakespeare is a stretch.

    Another possible theory: misogynist professors are perhaps more funny when 1) one is an unmarried grad student; and 2) when one looks at the folks in the book as a big joke (rather than, even today, a reality in many departments).