Philipp Swallow organized a literature conference at Rummidge University. Among the attendants are his old friend Morris Zapp, flying over from the USA, and Persse McGarrigle from University College in Limerick who only just completed his master’s thesis and is new to the world of academic conferences. In fact, he was only invited by mistake. Persse’s life is completely upended when he meets the beautiful and brilliant Angelica Pabst at the conference and immediately falls in love. But the lives of the more seasoned professors get more excited too when rumors about a UNESCO chair for literary theory start making the rounds: it would be the perfect appointment – and everybody wants it.
Small World transplants the legend of the search for the Holy Grail into literary academia which is a great idea that works best, of course, if you have good knowledge of both. I don’t, but I still found the book an entertaining and very funny.
We talked about this book in my lit course at uni, so I was able to make a little more about it than I would have if I had just read it on my own, discovering a lot more intricacies and intertextuality. And Small World certainly deserves this thorough examination – it really does have a lot to offer.
I have to admit that romances (in the sense of questing knights) are not so much my cup of tea. I barely know the grail legend (and most of my knowledge there probably comes from Monty Python), but I do know academia by now, even if I’m new to the studies of literature and literary theory. Lodge really hits the nail on the head there. Not only with his seemingly effortless breaking down of theoretical concepts into easily digestible and short summaries, but also with the general way things are being done there. And through it all, he never loses his sense of humor.
The only thing I’m not so happy about is the portrayal of the women in the book which is, unfortunately, lacking. Not only are there only very few female characters in the first place, they all have strange relationships with sex and/or men and pretty much exist only in reference to the men who are the real concern of the book.
Apart from that, though, I thought that Small World was hugely enjoyable. And if you want a sneak peek at what literary theory can offer, it is probably the best way to get a first introduction without getting overwhelmed by theories straight away. I do recommend reading the author’s introduction, though (I have the Vintage edition with the entire trilogy in one book and the introduction is hugely helpful).