Philipp Swallow is a professor for literature at a small british campus, Rummidge. Coasting by on old laurels, he is a good teacher, and not so good academic researcher. His life is comfortable, but not very exciting. On the other side of the Atlantic, Morris Zapp is a brilliant academic with a steep career at Euphoria University. Both get involved in a six month exchange program for professors (for very different reasons), exchanging places for a semster – and not only on a professional level.
Changing Places is an entertaining read that may seem like it will only appeal to a very limited audience, but I think that is an impression that might be misleading. In any case, I enjoyed it.
In Austria, we don’t really have university campuses like in the USA or the UK, so despite being rather familiar with university proceedings here (as both student and employee), there are of course differences in university life. Despite that and despite the fact that the book is over 40 years old, there were some things that still seemed pretty familiar in Lodge’s novel. Academia may have changed, but not all that much it seems.
That familiarity is part of what makes the charm of Changing Places. Everybody who has ever been to university will probably recognize some of the academic archetypes Lodge draws on. Since he is a literature professor himself, he not only knows that landscape intimately, but he also draws on it with a nice sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye.
Even if you don’t know universities that well or at all, I do believe that Changing Places can and will entertain with its vivid characters, Lodge’s sharp observational skills and the frankness with which he approaches characters, story and setting. The novel might not take a particularly new route, but the way it is taking is scenic and enjoyable.
Summarizing: Very nice read.