Philip Swallow and Maurice Zapp, English lecturers at, respectively, British and American universities, exchange jobs for six months.
Very readable - at least the first half of the book is - and derives much humour from the descriptions of English culture through an American's eyes and vice versa. The settings appear very different, Lodge contrives to have events at each place roughly mirror one another, which allows him to show the contrasts in attitude and behaviour between English and Americans. Some of this had an especial resonance since I'm reading Watching The English at the moment.
Like most of Lodge's books, he seems to make fun of his characters, rather than sympathise with them, but there is a fair amount of fun to be had, whether it's with Philip's childish excitement at the profligacy of Californian living or Maurice's bemusement at waking up in a room so cold he can see his breath.
Lodge seems unable to resist the temptation to write in a tricksy way: there is a chapter of the book which consists simply of letters between the main characters and their wives (not so bad), a chapter made up of clippings from various newspapers (not so good) and a final section written in the form of a film script. He also has a section which jumps around in time a lot, which seems largely to be an excuse to include a quote from the fictional "Let's Write a Novel" saying "don't use flashbacks, they just confuse the reader". I think there was a bit too much of this sort of thing, although it seems to go with the territory for Lodge.
Pretty enjoyable read though.
Re-read in 2017, with a smile on my face for a good deal of it. I really enjoyed the meta stuff about how fiction works woven into the fiction itself. E.g., in a section consisting of letters between Philip and Hilary: Do you still want me to send on Let's Write a Novel? What a funny little book it is. There's a whole chapter on how to write an epistolary novel, but surely nobody's done t hat since the eighteenth century?". And, at the end of the book:
HILARY: I don't wish to listen to this childish conversation.
PHILIP: What's wrong? You started it.
HILARY: This is not what I meant by a serious talk. You sound like a couple of scriptwriters discussing how to wind up a play.
I found the politics stuff about protests at Euphoria and Rummidge a bit boring but observations of the differences between the UK and US were very funny. E.g. after a near-miss between two airplanes:
Interior: Flight deck, VC10 - afternoon.
BRITISH CAPTAIN: (coolly into microphone) Hello Kennedy Flight Control. This is BOAC Whisky Sugar Eight. I have to report an air miss.
Interior: Flight deck, Boeing 707 - afternoon.
AMERICAN CAPTAIN: (enraged, into microphone) What the fuck do you think you guys are doing down there?
Completed : 27-May-2005 (audiobook)
Completed : 08-Oct-2017