three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
By: 
David Lodge
user_rating: 
0

A-AuthorAuthorAlthough he’s a member of the literary elite, Henry James secretly wishes he could reach millions with his playwriting. In Author, Author, James makes a determined effort to achieve the fame and fortune he feels he deserves. Set in England and Italy in the late 1880s, this partially fictitious rendering of James’s life reveals his worries over declining book sales and highlights his friendships with magazine illustrator George Du Maurier and American novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson. While James struggles to write a play he hopes will win over the hearts of the masses, Woolson’s novel, Anne, sells tens of thousands of copies. At the same time, Du Maurier pens Trilby, a sentimental book that becomes the bestseller of the century. As his friends succeed where he fails, James succumbs to insatiable envy.
Viking. 390 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670033499

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"[Lodge] follows the known facts of James’ life closely, incorporating many sources and even telling us in a postscript exactly which scenes he imagined and which details he invented for the sake of his story. Lodge uses his novelist’s skill to bring these dry facts to life…." Thomas Bontly

People Magazine 4 of 5 Stars
"Lodge delivers warmth and comedy, even suspense, all of which are scarce in a rival novel about James, Colm Toíbín’s The Master, which came out in June. Here, James is a painfully shy underdog who, despite familial riches and his literary prestige, fumbled for speech, struggled to connect with people, and saw his career nearly sunk by the failure of his play Guy Domville in 1895." Kyle Smith

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"As for the historical, Lodge recreates the little world of London’s West End stage with great charm and care. … It says a great deal for Lodge that he kept me in suspense for a considerable time about a denouement that I understood in advance, and then made that climax into something more shattering than I had anticipated." Christopher Hitchens

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"…Colm Tóibín beat [Lodge] to the finish line last spring with his Booker-shortlisted The Master, an exquisite, scrupulously researched novel about the same period in James’ life. Alas, the differences don’t flatter Lodge; whereas some of Tóibín’s language and imaginings reached a state of almost Jamesian grace, Lodge’s prose is more the diligent work of a quasi-biographer, and his exploration of James’ uncertain sexuality is less daring (though perhaps more credible)." Mark Harris

Miami Herald 2 of 5 Stars
"[Henry] James disliked historical fiction, finding it unbelievable and inelegant, and Author, Author would not change his mind. … The novel only comes alive when he abandons pure facts to create James’ inner life." Ellen Kanner

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"His book is marred by a fatal timidity. Although he happily shows us Henry [James] splashing in the tub or posting off urine samples labeled ‘a.m.’ and ‘p.m.,’ he cannot quite bring himself to penetrate the consciousness of the grand master of consciousness. As a result, his James lacks an interior life." Sophie Harrison

San Francisco Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"But novelty alone cannot redeem the resulting failure; his newest novel is thoroughly researched and ably written, but it is disappointingly inert." Timothy Peters

Critical Summary

Timing is everything, and Lodge seems to have written the wrong book at the wrong time. Author, Author, his novel about a novelist, is the third title this year—following Colm Tóibín’s The Master ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection, Sept/Oct 2004) and Emma Tennant’s Felony—to feature Henry James as its protagonist. Although it’s clear Lodge respects James, that admiration is not enough to make this book a "must read." Here, Lodge depicts James as a pompous, selfish, ambitious scribe overcome with professional jealousy. While most critics enjoyed Lodge’s writing style and meticulous attention to accurate scholarship, the fictionalized James did not, overall, find a sympathetic audience with modern day readers.