Review: A Man of Parts

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: A Man of PartsA Man of Parts: A Novel of H. G. Wells by David Lodge
Published by Viking Adult on September 15, 2011
Genres: Biography, Historical
Pages: 432
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher

A riveting novel about the remarkable life-and many loves-of author H. G. Wells.

H. G. Wells, author of The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, was one of the twentieth century's most prophetic and creative writers, a man who immersed himself in socialist politics and free love, whose meteoric rise to fame brought him into contact with the most important literary, intellectual, and political figures of his time, but who in later years felt increasingly ignored and disillusioned in his own utopian visions. Novelist and critic David Lodge has taken the compelling true story of Wells's life and transformed it into a witty and deeply moving narrative about a fascinating yet flawed man.

Wells had sexual relations with innumerable women in his lifetime, but in 1944, as he finds himself dying, he returns to the memories of a select group of wives and mistresses, including the brilliant young student Amber Reeves and the gifted writer Rebecca West. As he reviews his professional, political, and romantic successes and failures, it is through his memories of these women that he comes to understand himself. Eloquent, sexy, and tender, the novel is an artfully composed portrait of Wells's astonishing life, with vivid glimpses of its turbulent historical background, by one of England's most respected and popular writers.

A Man of Parts is a fictional biography of author H.G. Wells. I did not go into this book knowing anything about H.G. Wells, except for his having written quite a few novels and his being one of the founders of the genre of science fiction. Given that, I cannot assert with complete assurance that the events related in Lodge’s book are all faithful representations of the author’s life, but I suspect they are. The extensive acknowledgements certainly suggest that Lodge did his research before writing the book, not that I would expect less.

Why, then, is this written as a novel, rather than a biography? My suspicion is that it is simply much more fun to write historical fiction than a strictly correct biography. Why? Because, had he written this as nonfiction, he would have been unable to put words into the mouths of the characters, and would have had to rely solely on, instead, the literature, letters and speeches of Wells. While that does a lot, it does not give the same freedom that the label of fiction does.

His Novels Were as Plentiful as His Mustache

This is my second experience with David Lodge, although my only successful one, as I gave up on the first book of The Campus Trilogy quite swiftly. I found the opening pages not at all to my liking and decided to move on. Lured by the interesting subject matter here, I could not resist requesting a copy of A Man of Parts. Thankfully, I found myself much more drawn to the book than I ever expected. The writing is excellent and what I learned completely shocking. Impressed by this one, I will definitely be giving The Campus Trilogy another go, especially since Penguin was kind enough to give me the new, completely gorgeous edition containing the whole of the trilogy with this book.

You may wonder why I found the contents of the novel so entirely shocking. That’s because it turns out that H.G. Wells was one heck of a horndog. Seriously. He spent all of his time that was not devoted to writing pursuing sexual intercourse with various ladies, most of whom were many years his junior. Many of these sexual partners were authors like himself.

This Is the Face of a Man That Makes Bitches Crazy

Honestly, the descriptions of Wells’ social life and his completely nutty (and hypocritical) opinions on sexual relations were the most intriguing part of the book. Wells espoused a belief in free love, although he did (mostly) attempt to only sleep with women he cared for, although, given the opportunity, any relatively good looking woman would do. (On one occasion, he even slept with a woman with a shriveled hand.)

Author Elizabeth Von Arnim – He Tapped That

At the same time, Wells fervently believed in the institution of marriage. He married twice (the first, which was to his cousin by the way, ended in divorce, since he wanted to marry his second wife, Jane). Both marriages were passionless, which increased his straying. Jane seems to have been okay with it, although certainly not thrilled. I imagine she was not as pleased with the arrangement as Wells seems to have believed. Despite his constant straying, Wells was remarkably constant to Jane, and never really wanted to leave her. Of course, his affairs also had other consequences, like babies and scandal. It’s funny how this is never the part of history that you get to learn about in school.

Amber Reeves and Wells’ Love Child #1

Lodge largely uses a pretty straightforward narrative style (third person, mostly following Wells’ viewpoint). However, he occasionally switches to a very strange style, wherein H.G. Wells responds to some sort of interviewer. I’m not entirely sure what to make of these sections, but they did tend to be fascinating, since the voice really liked to probe Wells about the subjects he least wished to discuss. I suspect that this was either employed solely as a narrative device or, perhaps more likely, was used to depict Wells’ dementia at the end of his life, as he tried to account for his behavior.

Author Rebecca West – That Too

While I did enjoy the novel, I will warn that it is not an especially quick read, or, at least, it was not for me. Nonetheless, I found it to be well worth the time, and, if you ever want to have your illusions of a classical author shattered, this is definitely the way to go.

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