WHILE MOST NOVELISTS disclaim any similarity between their characters and actual people, David Lodge relishes the chance to tell the reader in the preface to Author, Author that everyone and everything in his new novel is based on real people, true events, and actual conversations. It involves a famous man who is dying at the age of seventy-two but has never had sex. He is American but lives in Rye and also has a grand flat in Cheyne Walk. He has brought one word into the English language and it is one, he is told, that he should be proud oE 'Jamesian'. But all this is not enough to make him content, we discover, as Lodge turns his eye onto the final, hectic, restless years of Henry James, the grand old man of English letters at the close of the Edwardian age. He longs for the financial security and celebrity that a literary blockbuster could bring, but is stuck with his dense, complex, patrician prose style, which, on a first reading, the man in the street finds virtually incomprehensible. Lodge's novel is a study of the creative life of the famous writer and all the anxieties, jealousy, ambition, success, adoration, failure, derision and vanity that accompany his profession. The book is wrought with tragic, comic and ironic turns. The most moving scene surrounds James's deathbed, and this begins and ends the novel: his family, servants and friends gather to say farewell, and witness the bleak, ironic moment when his Order of Merit, the highest accolade that his King and country can give, is delivered, but he is already too comatose to notice. It was adoration that he sought - a cry of 'Author, Author' from a loudly clapping audience on the first night of a play - and ultimately failed to win despite desperate attempts to become popular and make money by writing potboiler literary plays. But this is just one thread of a multi-layered book that gets under the skin of this vulnerable and venerable writer and evokes all the nuances of his period; it is hugely enjoyable.
James makes a perfect fictional character with his prissy manners, aversion to sex, driving ambition, crashing snobbery and complex mind. Lodge is not alone in finding James a good subject for a novel. Earlier this year the Irish writer Colom Toibin wrote one about him, and two years ago Emma