How Far Can You Go?
by David Lodge (London, Penguin 1981), 244pp, ISBN 0-14-005746-3
Review by Bill Gent
How I wish that I had had access to this book many years ago when I was teaching an A-level course about the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century. The book very powerfully shows how religion can shape and effect the lives of individuals and groups. Through using the interesting device of asides to his readers, David Lodge explains many of the events and beliefs which impinge on the story line.
Though in the form of a novel, the book draws on real events that took place within the Roman Catholic Church from the mid-twentieth century to the 1970s. These include the holding of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the publication of the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 and the impact of the Charismatic movement. For the group of characters in the novel, there is a profound shift in their world-views (Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Sin and so on) in general, and on their attitudes to sexuality and birth-control in particular.
The book opens in 1952 with a group of London University students meeting for a Thursday morning Mass (in Latin) at the church of Our Lady and St Jude. By the end of the book, at the time of the succession of Pope John Paul II in 1978, the lives of these students have weathered many storms – personal, religious and sexual (the title of the book relates as much to sexual practice as it does to theological belief).
This book is recommended to Open University students as pre-course reading before a world religions module. I would certainly recommend it to RE teachers but, because of its many sexual references, would advise that they read it first before recommending it to sixth form students.
Bill Gent, Redbridge Advisory and Inspection Service, September 2000