Book 47: Home Truths by David Lodge, isbn 9780140291806, 115 pages, Penguin, $11.95
There's an oft-quoted / paraphrased theory of fiction writing that says "the form finds the story." I know Neil Gaiman has blogged about the concept: how occasionally he's struggled trying to tell a story in a certain way only to discover it works better as something else (trying to write a short story when what it really wants to be is a poem, for example). And of course Alan Moore is famous for his refusal to have anything to do with adaptations of his work into other forms of storytelling (see the movie versions of Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) because he told the story in the style and format it fit best in, and it didn't need to be anything else.
I have occasionally toyed with turning both of my less-than-successful attempts at one-act plays into novellas. David Lodge's Home Truths made me think twice about it. Lodge's novella is a prose rendering of his play of the same title. His short note at the beginning tells you so, and also tells you that he put back in dialogue cut from various productions of the play. The problem is, the novella doesn't feel like a novella -- it feels like a playscript with very very explicit stage directions added in, and one odd veering-off into something that could not actually have been staged the way it's written (which, perhaps, was Lodge's whole intent for the piece, but since most of it sticks to what conceivably would have been an English Country Home One Room Drama, the piece that doesn't take place in that one room feels highly highly out of place.)
The plot, in short, is this: retired author Adrian Ludlow and his wife are visited by their old friend Sam Sharp, who is quite upset a scathing profile done by paparazzi-journalist Fanny Tarrant. A revenge scheme is set up, involving Adrian being interviewed by Tarrant at the same time that he interviews her. Will the retired author give up his own beloved privacy to skewer the woman who skewers famous people?
I have a feeling if I had seen Home Truths staged, I'd have enjoyed it quite a bit. The very British snappy patter speaks to me, and the topic is ... well, topical, perhaps even moreso now than when the play was written in 1998 (the action takes place around a pivotal cultural moment in 1997). But in book form, Lodge uses an awful lot of "he said" style dialogue tags that quickly get repetitive and actually annoying, cutting into the flow of the story. And in the end, the point Lodge seems to be trying to make is almost too cliche precisely because of that pivotal cultural moment Lodge relies on to make the point.
Reading this novella was instructional for me as a writer, but not something I'd recommend eagerly to others.