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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

August 08, 1993|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE ART OF FICTION by David Lodge. (Viking: $22; 240 pp.) Lodge has been publishing novels and writing literary criticism for several decades, most recently for the British newspaper, the Independent, on Sundays. His weekly column is called "The Art of Fiction," in which he chooses an excerpt from a novel or story, classic or modern, and says what he wants about it. This book is made up of Lodge's favorite essays, elaborated on, enlarged and personalized for book form. My advice is that you read this charming book slowly, or you might begin to assume that writers are a dangerous, calculating lot, far more in control of their literary references, their points of view and their distance from their own characters than they often are. On the other hand, it's fine to be reminded that the man behind the curtain has some authority, if we are, as in the movies, to willingly suspend our disbelief. If we read fiction, as Lodge says, "to enlarge our knowledge and understanding of the world," and not just to escape or have a good time (see the Bestseller list, Page 10), then it is wonderful to be clued in to some of the magic tricks of the trade; the point of view, the stream of consciousness, the use of names, the sense of place, time-shift and intertextuality. Lodge gets a little uppity on the subject of "Experimental Fiction": "An experimental novel is one that ostentatiously deviates from the received ways of representing reality," linking experimental fiction (through the example of Henry Green) with an effort to escape the middle-class nature of the novel, which seems a little forced. But it is pleasant to be back in the classroom, and Lodge is an able, if slightly uninspired, professor.

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