Lewis was always more of an idea man than a character-man.
—Julian Barnes on C.S. Lewis (1977)
In America these days, the most-travelled route to literary success passes through the creative-writing programs, where would-be novelists read Ann Beattie and learn how to turn their middle-class suburban childhoods into earnest, inert, and carefully crafted fictions. The corresponding route in Britain traverses a strikingly different territory: from Oxford and Cambridge, it leads directly to literary London, where aspiring novelists apply their public-school cockiness and liberal educations to irreverent, arrogantly slapdash pieces for publications like The Literary Review and The London Review of Books, thereby preparing themselves for the production of smart, vibrant, often untidy fictions which may be inspired by anyone from Laurence Sterne to Evelyn Waugh.
Among the English...