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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very unsettling read., 11 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
If you think concerns about materialism, rampant consumerism and waste are anything new you should read this. Wells was on to it more than a hundred years ago in this novel about the rise and fall of a business empire founded on the success of an ineffectual tonic, Tono-Bungay. A fortune is made by selling this 'mischievous trash'. Wells seems very pessimistic about the human condition but there is humour to be found throughout, The novel seems more relevant today than ever and it's surprising that it's not a more famous classic. I highly recommend it.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bend those genres, Mr. Wells, 9 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Critics like to categorise Wells' novels under neat headings like 'Social Comedy', 'Problem Novel' or 'Scientific Romance'. Wells himself often didn't give a hoot for such distinctions and 'Tono-Bungay' sees him trample splendidly all over the neat genre-boundaries critics love, since it's got social comedy, financial problems and even a smattering of science fiction in the mix too.
'Tono-Bungay' is notionally the autobiography of George Ponderevo, who describes a very Wellsian ascent from son of belowstairs servants to financial mastermind (and weapons-monger). The first part of the book, where George describes his early life as servant's child at Bladesover House, is one of Wells' best sustained pieces of writing and an unforgettable picture of England in his day.
George largely grows up under the erratically brilliant care of his Uncle Edward, inventor of the patent medicine that seals their fortunes and gives the book its title. Buoyed up by Uncle Edward's quackery, George rises to such heights that he can fund his own flying-machines and destroyers. (En route, he tries to corner the world market in a curious substance called 'quap', which seems to be radioactive, and which Wells uses as a symbol of some deep disorder in the physical world itself.)
Although notionally George's autobiography, 'Tono-Bungay' has its real centre in the irrepressible Uncle Edward, and the story flags a bit when he isn't on stage. 'Tono-Bungay' fizzes with ideas and situations but yields a deep feeling of sadness for its central character - who never quite translates all his plans into happiness or love. The range of genres Wells attempts is really impressive but also means the book doesn't always quite gel - sometimes Wells sticks his head out from behind the mask of Ponderevo and starts badgering the reader about the State of Things in his own person. (You suspect Mr. Wells and Mr. Ponderevo the younger shared not just a meteoric rise from obscurity but also similar romantic and social frustrations.) With that said, 'Tono-Bungay' is one of Wells' finest novels.
This edition, like all Penguin's recent Wells reprints, comes with a helpful introduction (in this case by Edward Mendelson) and notes.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tono Bungay, 25 Dec. 2006
By 
Paul Clift (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Although the title Tono Bungay is the name of a fictitious and extremely profitable tonic, this novel is in fact the gripping autobiography of George Ponderevo, the nephew of Tono Bungay's inventor. We follow George from his humble beginnings through his doubting involvement in the marketing of a practically useless tonic medicine (actually based on Coca Cola) to his development of flying machines and modern warships.

George's doubts flow from his socialism (Wells himself was a Fabian) and his warm sense of humanity. Through the adventures of one of the most engaging characters in fiction, we are presented with a critical view of free-market Capital and the lengths it will go to seduce and persuade people into parting with their cash for the least return. Although published in Edwardian England (1909) its relevance and contemporary reference to our world today is startling: in a fast-moving narrative (blink and you miss it - don't be tempted to skip the odd paragraph) we find cash for honours, the rapid but fragile rise of the unprincipled entrepreneur, a subtle but significant allusion to drug addiction, exploitation of Africa...

The narrator himself is convivial company, and his observations and life-events kept grounded by his Aunt Susan who, although she too becomes vastly rich thanks to the financial success of her husband's business, remains down to earth throughout.

In short, this novel succeeds in giving an examination of Capitalism and the society it produces and feeds off, while being at all times an engaging account of warm, human characters.

My only reservations are about the notes to this Penguin edition. To be fair to Penguin, they head the notes with a statement that "...the notes explain many allusions for which British readers need no explanation". In other words, this is a 'one size fits all' edition for readers on both sides of the Atlantic. They were produced by an American Academic. Not only does this oxymoron patronise us with explanations of such obscure and confusing terms as 'gasworks' and 'William Morris' but he also informs us (note 19 to Book 3, Ch. 3) that Tristan & Isolde was the first of Wagner's operas, which it most certainly was not - Wagner had been writing operas for a good 25 years by the time he came to write Tristan. This seems to be part of a trend in current Penguins. For example, the notes to their edition of the Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano appear to have been similarly prepared for a readership of ill-educated Americans. Read the novel and ignore the notes!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tono Bungay, 8 Nov. 2012
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Took a lot of getting into but worth the trouble. Interesting concept of life and situations you find yourself in.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic, 26 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
A rather old fashioned style of writing and the temptation to skip verbose passages is strong BUT you then miss some of the gems of visionary and prophetic ideas and comments on the English way of life which still have value today in 21st century Britain.
Book in lovely condition and the edition has valuable background notes to explain the more obscure aspects of the tale
A great bargain
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wasted value - extract, 1 July 2008
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This review is from: Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In a passage just before the midpoint of H.G. Wells's Tono-Bungay, one of the most telling examples of what would come to be called the Condition of England genre,1 George Ponderevo's childhood friend Ewart, a hard-drinking, itinerant artist prone to spouting Nietzschean aphorisms, visits the factory where the narrator and his uncle Edward produce the novel's spurious, eponymous product. Speaking as "one artist to another," Ewart lectures Edward on aesthetic and economic value; indeed, in Ewart's sarcastic rendering, the two forms are inseparable (169). Praising the Ponderevo operation for its "poetry" of production, Ewart goes on to describe the artistry of the entire system of consumer culture that Tono-Bungay embodies: "And it's not your poetry only. It's the poetry of the customer too. Poet answering poet-soul to soul" (168). But if economic concerns have usurped the purportedly disinterested space of art, the notion of economic value itself has undergone a similar revolution. "The old merchant used to tote about commodities; the new one creates values," Ewart asserts. "He takes something that isn't worth anything-or something that isn't particularly worth anything, and he makes it worth something" (169). This ironic commentary by a minor character precisely identifies the major preoccupation of Wells's novel and marks the site of Edwardian anxiety informing the Condition of England novel: the apparent abandonment by "modern commerce" of established determinants of value and waste.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Think Coke, 20 Mar. 2010
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Room for a View - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In the introduction this novel is described as a masterpiece. And I agree. I was mesmerised by the recollections and opinions of the story's first person Dickensian hero (George), who from humble beginnings, teams up with his uncle who makes a mint from flavoured water purely through the power of advertising. Cue ostentatious materialism, social kudos and even more wealth. The ever sceptical George inhabits the shadows avoiding, where possible, his uncle's mansion building and social aspirations. For me George is a sensitive, modest man with an inquiring mind. I found his exploits with flight and balloons enthralling as was his expedition to West Africa. Well's world of the early 20th century is immersed in steam powered Victorian urban and rural landscapes which slowly dissolve into the Edwardian age which saw the advent of the motor care, powered flight and radioactivity. The tension between unrestrained capitalism and aggressive socialism is clearly evident as is the rigid English class system and the role of women in society. There is much to enjoy in this book. Sometimes it is funny, prophetic and sad.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well's big novel, 26 Oct. 2012
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Dr. W. S. Affleck (Nailsworth, Glkoucestershire, England) - See all my reviews
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I read Tono Bungay shortly after reading 'A man of parts' and enjoyed it the more for that. This is a very professionally structured book which looks to have been carefully and repeatedly rewritten. A downside of this is that sometimes it appears laboured but this is a small price to pay for general excellence. If you've only read HGW's excellent short stories or the 'sci-fi' stuff be aware that this is a heavier project. Recommended.
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Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics)
Tono-Bungay (Penguin Classics) by H.G. Wells (Paperback - 31 Mar. 2005)
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