Russell Hoban: Her Name Was Lola
Bloomsbury Press, out 3rd Nov. 2003

Despite the title, Russell Hoban’s new book, “Her name was Lola” is emphatically not a book about a showgirl.

Instead, it is a book about love, life and fate; a hackneyed trio if ever there was one. Hoban is aware of this, and even goes so far as to parody himself, in time-honoured mirror-within-a-mirror fashion.

For, yes, his central character, Max, is a writer too, and one who reveals much of his personality though witty, but truly surreal, conversations with his ‘mind’ and with his own, bizarre, fictional, characters, Moe and Charlotte the Hedgehog, all of whom are far more moral than he is, and annoyingly offer him smug advice. “Now I know why people lose their minds”, Max quips after one such moralizing sermon.

We first meet Max in his flat in London. He has lost his memory, although he doesn’t know why. Through a serious of flashbacks, we discover that our hapless hero had all but given up on love when, by chance he met “his destiny” in a CD store. He pursued her, and, against all odds, triumphed. Only to meet the equally mesmerising Lula-May a few days later. You can probably guess the rest.

It is a pretty weird book, frankly, that manages to combine tired ideas and characters, like Max’s upper-class girlfriend who lives in Belgravia—where else—drives an E-type Jag courtesy of her Daddy and says things like “gosh”, with a fresh style of writing, fast pace and interesting storyline. But is that enough to save it?

Yes. This is a pretty fun book that does manage to lift itself out of the tramlines of the boy-meets-girl, stupidly-looses-girl, tries-to-get-her-back genre, partly by the wit and ingenuity of the author, and partly by the fabulous invocations of Indian myth and musical ‘raga’ that pepper the novel.

Final Verdict: This is not an earth-shattering read, but it will make a good stocking-filler.

Isabel Owen, 08.11.03