I usually dislike novels with too many characters in them. It makes the story difficult to follow - especially if I read the book over a long period of time - often finding myself leafing back to check up on some character I do not remember. I also find that in many such novels most of the characters are under-developed and leave almost no lasting impression on the story or the reader. In this respect, David Lodge's Small World was a pleasant surprise.
Small World is not a long novel (just over 300 pages), yet it is crammed with lively and colourful characters, dozens of them in fact. As the name of the book suggests, the story takes place all over the world and Lodge succeeds in keeping the pace fast enough and the characters alive enough, so as not to lose the reader when jumping between locations and between parallel stories.
The book is about English professors "on the loose", trekking the globe in a a frenzy, attending conferences, mingling with colleagues and striking up relationships which are kindled and exstinguished at a mind-boggling pace. The cast of characters is truly heterogenous - in nationality (Italians, Americans, Brits, Germans, Japanese), in age (from retires professors to young and aspiring PhD students) and in personality (from haughty sadists to clueless buffoons).
Lodge pokes fun at the academic world and its rules, exposing the main protagonists of this lovely tale as normal human beings in search of love, compassion and social status. It is the second book in a trilogy; I read the first part, Changing Places, a few months ago (and I intend to read the third soon).
I found myself laughing out loud several times while reading this book and I fully agree with the observation on its cover that "Lodge combines John Updike's social observation with Philip Roth's uproarious humour".