Thinks ...

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Thinks ... (2001) is a novel by British author David Lodge.


Plot summary

The novel is exclusively set at the (entirely fictitious [cf. "Author's Note"]) University of Gloucester, based loosely on the University of York thanks to the author's brief residence there. (Its Cognitive Science and Creative Writing departments also bear uncanny resemblances to those of the universities of Sussex and East Anglia respectively.)[citation needed] Its action takes place in the spring term of 1997 (during the time of Tony Blair's landslide victory). Helen Reed, an English novelist in her early forties with two children old enough to look after themselves, arrives on campus to spend the term there as "writer-in-residence" and to teach a creative writing class — actually sitting in for a professor who is spending the term abroad to write a novel. Helen is going through a crisis in her life after the sudden death of her husband Martin a bit more than a year ago. Martin Reed worked for the BBC researching material for documentaries. One night, out of the blue, he developed a brain aneurysm, went into a coma, and died the next day. Still grieving over the death of her beloved husband, Helen thinks a change of scenery might be a good idea to get over her loss. However, the moment she sees the campus and the accommodation that has been provided for her, it occurs to her that she might as well turn on her heel and go back to their beautifully restored old house in London. As she has rented it out for the duration of the term to a couple visiting from the United States, however, she finally brings herself to stay on and face the challenge: She has never finished her D.Phil. thesis on point of view in Henry James and her teaching experience so far has been limited to some night class on creative writing full of bored housewives.

The University of Gloucester, whose campus boasts wide open spaces and even an artificial lake but whose buildings look rather drab and unspectacular in the harsh February weather, caters for all sorts of tastes and needs. Apart from the English Department, she is particularly intrigued by the department specialising in Cognitive Science, and by its head, 50 year-old Ralph Messenger, to whom she is introduced at some social function very soon during her stay. From the moment she sets eyes on him, Helen feels curiously attracted by Messenger, but she soon learns about his reputation as a womaniser. Helen has not had sex since her husband's death, and, due to her Catholic upbringing, which she has been unable and, to a lesser degree, also unwilling to cast off completely, she tries to thrust aside any thoughts concerning an illicit affair or a one-night stand with Messenger, who is married with four children. In due course, she also meets his wife Carrie, an American coming from a rich background, and their children — Emily, her 17 year-old daughter by her first marriage; Simon and Mark, two teenage boys; and 8 year-old Hope, a girl. The Messengers live in a beautiful house near the University but they also have a country retreat in the Cotswolds (quite close to Gloucester) called 'Horseshoes', where they have a large redwood hot tub in their back garden. Before long Helen is invited to join them for a Sunday in the country, and she gladly accepts to avoid another dreary and empty weekend.

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