A Man of Parts by David Lodge

Saturday 24th March

I bought this book because I happened to see an advertisement for it on the Underground.  I had somehow missed the review of the book, which is strange because I am quite thorough in perusing the book reviews in the Sunday Times, and would be most surprised if this was not featured.  I recognized the name, and remembered reading a couple if his books, oh, quite a few years ago now; Nice Work was certainly memorable.

Well, I bought the book without even reading the synopsis, and stuck it on the shelf.  I have just read it, and was quite surprised to find that it was a biography of H.G. Wells.  Well, actually a sort of fictionalized biography, quoting real events and letters, but making up a lot of conversation and all of the emotions.  It works remarkably well, because it is essentially real, and unexaggerated, but reads more like a novel.  And of course, with the subject matter one had to make nothing up, the story is quite remarkable.  I knew little of H.G.Wells except having read a few of his popular novels as a younger woman, and I sort of knew that he and Rebecca West had a fling.  What I hadn’t realized was what a fabulously complicated love life he had; it’s a wonder he found time to write anything at all.  He was also a socialist and a leading thinker on science and mankind and society.  A real renaissance man, and yet today he is hardly ever mentioned.  Which just about puts it all into perspective, here was a giant among men, a prolific writer and a well known public figure for many years, and yet he lies forgotten.  He predicted among other things Atomic power and manned space flights and aerial warfare, and he is remembered if at all for an early sci-fi novel ‘The War of the Worlds.’  But it is his tangled love-life, falling successively for young and beautiful intelligent women who he seduced and usually abandoned that makes him so fascinating.  His second wife ‘Jane’ seemed to acquiesce in his pursuit of and ravishment of these women, while remaining passive sexually herself.  I just wonder if there was far more going on here than even David Lodge surmised. The book is beautifully written and quite a triumph, but I feel that if I had never read any of or knew nothing of H. G. Wells, I might have lost interest early on.  So a writer’s book I feel, and I give it seven out of ten.