Customer Review

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A NOVEL LIFE, 7 April 2011
This review is from: A Man of Parts (Hardcover)
David Lodge's "Man of Parts" is a lightly fictionalized biography of H.G. Wells focused principally on his very active sex life. It is an odd hybrid: so close to being an actual biography that Lodge might as well have written it as such. Nonetheless, as can almost be guaranteed from Lodge, it is a satisfying read. It is as close to being unputdownable as a 560-page tome could hope to be.

"A Man of Parts" begins with Wells approaching the end of his life during the final days of World War II. He is witness to the realization of some of his scientific forecasts: aerial warfare and the atomic bomb. Some of his utopian predictions - world government or at least the new United Nations Organization, and the beginnings of the Welfare State - are also being fulfilled. But these are all disappointments. To the dismay of friends and family, his final work is the bitter "A Mind at the End of its Tether."

Lodge then takes us back through Wells' rags to riches life story. He does this through a combination of straight narrative and a periodic series of interviews of Wells by himself. This latter technique seems too much like a cheap prop. It reminds me of Dennis O'Driscoll's's not-quite-satisfying email interviews of Seamus Heaney in "Stepping Stones" or of some of Peter Ackroyd's more fanciful experiments at the edge of biography.

As Lodge signals in his prefatory quotation from the Collins English Dictionary: "parts: short for private parts," his interest here is mainly in Well's sexual development. He tells us that Wells experienced over one hundred women. We are introduced to a broad sample during the course of this book. Wells married twice. Through misfortune and then carelessness he chose two women who had considerably less sexual appetite than himself. Thus, while his marriage to "Jane" lasted until her death in 1927, she had to accept his nonstop pursuit of extramarital sex. This sex came in both long-lasting relationships (as with Rebecca West, with whom he had a son, and Moura Budberg, who was rumored to be a Soviet spy and was actually Nick Clegg's great great aunt) and numerous "passades" with both acquaintances and prostitutes.

Many of Wells' affairs were with much younger women in circumstances than many corporate codes would today classify as sexual harassment. Wells justified his behavior on the basis of his philosophy of Free Love and his generosity in instructing these young women in the art of love ("Is that your ....?" Amber whispered. "That is my erect penis," he said). As Lodge makes clear, however, his lust antedated his philosophy; he was consumed with jealousy if there was even a hint that the shoe might be on the other foot; and he was not slow to condemn others in unconventional relationships such as Hubert Bland who sired his daughter, Rosamund, with the governess. Bland to be fair was also quick to rally to the double standard when he attacked Wells for seducing his daughter.

Lodge does touch on other matters - Wells' writing, his relationship with Henry James, his efforts to take over the Fabian, his worldly success - but most of his focus is on sex. He writes of this quite explicitly, but not pornographically. Wells' life story, we are quickly convinced, is about sex.

Lodge writes to a large degree in the voice of biography. His comprehensive bibliography of sources and his extensive quotations from Wells' and others' works and letters reinforce this impression. In "Author, Author," his 2004 novel about Henry James, Lodge used the fictional format to develop greater imaginative insight into his subject. This does not happen here, or if it does, it does not fully compensate for the uncertainty sowed as to which episodes in `A Man of Parts" are fact and which are fiction. The reader is left feeling slightly cheated even though the experience was undeniably satisfying. The Man Booker judges will have a dilemma.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

Be the first person to comment on this review.

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in

Review Details


4.0 out of 5 stars (31 customer reviews)
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:    (0)
Add to basket Add to wishlist

Location: London

Top Reviewer Ranking: 4,905