By Mark Harris
October 15, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Meet the year’s unluckiest good novelist. David Lodge, the Brit best known for academia-set comic novels, had the bright idea to fictionalize the life of Henry James, focusing on his unsuccessful mid-career detour into playwriting. Then Colm Tóibín beat him to the finish line last spring with his Booker-shortlisted The Master, an exquisite, scrupulously researched novel about the same period in James’ life. Alas, the differences don’t flatter Lodge; whereas some of Tóibín’s language and imaginings reached a state of almost Jamesian grace, Lodge’s prose in Author, Author is more the diligent work of a quasi-biographer, and his exploration of James’ uncertain sexuality is less daring (though perhaps more credible).

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