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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 March 2011
The man of parts in question here is HG Wells in this fictionalised biography. He was indeed a man of many talents and interests, although the parts that most exercise the interest of David Lodge are the great author's private parts. You see, not only was HG a prolific writer of fiction that incorporated a staggering amount of visionary ideas (tanks, airborne warfare and atomic bombs) - although admittedly some of his ideas have yet to come to pass such as time machines and Martian invasion - but he was also something of a political philosopher and idealist, being a central figure for a while in the Fabian movement, and an ardent practitioner of the concept of free love.

There are almost as many biographies and collections of correspondence on Wells as there are of HG's own works, and there is no doubt that Lodge has been meticulous in his research. So what then, does a fictionalised biography add to this? Well, the main thing is imagined conversations that make it a much more interesting read than the dryer, factual works. I confess I always have mixed views of this style as it is neither one thing nor the other, but more often than not they are entertaining and interesting and this is no exception.

One trait that the genre tends to have is that there tends to be, as here, a strong indication of life informing the literary works. This is exactly what Sebastian Faulks has railed against in Faulks on Fiction. However, Wells clearly put a lot of autobiographical content into his fiction and frequently used fiction to promote his political ideas of utopia and a socialist, world government. Often you find that the author falls into the literary equivalent of Stockholm syndrome with his subject and is uncritical of the manifest faults. Lodge avoids this skilfully, although with HG it is difficult to defend some of his more unpleasant traits concerning his hypocritical approach to his love life - he felt no compunction about having a myriad of mistresses but would get hopelessly jealous if any of the more serious lovers had the audacity to consider sleeping with anyone but him.

There is plenty of interesting insight into his involvement in the political movements of the early 1900s, but the subject matter that makes the reader's jaw drop deeper and deeper is his love life and how he managed to get away with it. He makes Katie Price look like one of the Waltons.

His first wife was his cousin, but she wasn't intelligent enough or sexually adventurous to keep him interested for long. Then he moved to a student of his who became his long-serving and, presumably, long-suffering wife, Jane. She had intelligence, but also quickly bored Wells in bed. However, she accepted HG having a stream of lovers, some of which she certainly knew about and apparently `approved of', two of whom he managed to have children with (as well as two with Jane). What is most disturbing though is that while there were some of Wells' age, his preference was for virginal students and promising young writers, including daughters of his associates. It's hard to defend this no matter how loyal he remained to his marriage to Jane.

The book starts towards the middle of the Second World War with HG in poor health. The device Lodge uses to get into the history of Wells' life is a little clunky, but the majority of the book is told in chronological order, as Wells recalling his events but told in the third person, interspersed by a few question and answers of an imaginable interviewer talking to Wells in what we are invited to believe is HG summoning his inner Paxman. The interviewer asks the most searching questions and exposes some of the great writer's inconsistent arguments. He could be cruel, not only to his lovers and wife, but also to other writers (notably Henry James). There are also plenty of authentic extracts from HG's novels and correspondences.

For the most part the fictionalised content seems authentic - the only time I rolled my eyes was when HG informs Jane that he is planning on heading off to France with his latest mistress to have a baby. Jane says "You're going to elope with Amber to France and have a baby with her? [...] Is that a good idea HG? Is that going to help the situation?". Then again, Jane's attitude to her husband's infidelities is so bizarre that how else could the conversation have gone?

There's not that much about HG's early life of why he was like he was and it was only in the final pages that I got much sense of his views changing with age. The constant affairs can be a little repetitive, but that of course is the fault of HG rather than Lodge. Wells lived at a time of great ideas and knew some great names and that is always interesting. There's no doubt he was interesting, if infuriating. I didn't like HG, but I certainly liked the book.
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on 1 October 2012
David Lodge,
A Man of Parts

David Lodge's latest book, A Man of Parts, is subtitled `A Novel,' but it reads and feels more like a biography of its subject, HG Wells. Lodge has become increasingly attracted to drawing on literary figures for his fiction and this latest `novel' not only straddles the two genres, but perhaps to its detriment ends by falling into pure biography.

Unlike his fictional Henry James novel Author, Author, the Wells book attempts to cover the whole story of the life and loves of the protagonist. This is some feat, as Wells had a long life, passing through two world wars, seeing dramatic changes - the rise of socialism, feminism and the erosion of traditional social and moral structures - and mixing in the most elite political and literary circles. A concise account of his encounters with friends, contacts and mistresses would fill volumes, and indeed, A Man of Parts is a modestly compact 565 pages. So the book, while never exhaustive can at times become exhausting, as we follow our hero from his shabby-genteel background to his position as popular writer, scientist, prophet and visionary on the world stage.

Perhaps the problem is that Wells himself is almost larger than life, too grandiose anyway to be fitted into novel form. During the reading one forgets that this is a novel, that most of these conversations and meditations on the state of the world are fictional. `Nearly everything that happens in this narrative is based on factual sources,' declares Lodge in his brief introduction. Thus the words of the major players speak for them. `Quotations from their books and other publications, speeches, and (with very few exceptions) letters, are their own words,' he informs us. This is admirable practice for a biographer, but slavery for a novelist. One episode in Wells's life - say his relationship with Gorky's mistress - would have provided material enough for an intriguing novel. Instead of this we have a lively biography of a Man of Parts, most of them private and here teasingly made public, as Wells practices what he preaches with sundry nubile virgins of like mind in the healthy practice of Free Love.

This book will not disappoint the prurient, its accounts of sexual congress in hotel bedrooms and en plein air, add an additional spice to the narrative, especially when Wells's partners are famous literary figures. The naughty joke begins with the title and continues as our hero exploits various Kamasutra positions, including bestial acts, cunnilingus and fellatio. All good fun for the author and his freelover hero! But those familiar the novelist's work will neither be surprised nor shocked at these Lodge-istic antics.

All in all, this is a fascinating life of a notable figure, an idealist who sadly fails to see his ideals for himself and humanity realised. It is also a valuable source book for students of the period.
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I love the writings of David Lodge (see my reviews of Deaf Sentence etc.) so I looked forward to this one. How disappointed I was!! I am sure that there is a good drama documentary type story behind the plethora of detail and sexual dalliances , but I gave up looking for it after a couple of hundred pages. Something I hate doing with any book let alone a David Lodge work.
Sorry Mr. Lodge I am a big fan, but not of this one.
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VINE VOICEon 9 May 2012
I'd not read any Lodge for a while,and seeing this in a shop was intrigued enough to buy, I know little about HG Wells beyond having read The War of the Worlds. The novelised biography is a curious concept, while Lodge provides evidence of copious references there is always the suspicion that he might have let his imagination get the better of him at points. However, by the end I was convinced he had provided a credible version of HG.

While the format is a little clunky at times - e.g. when HG cross-examines himself - but for the most part it's an engaging tale. There is no pretense at an objective view - we get HGs view of the world (or at least Lodges impression of it). So the reader is very much left to make up their own mind about HG and his life, and what a life it was.

The most eye popping aspect is of course his love life which we get in copious, though not explicit, detail. There is a lot of it, and there was a point about 2/3 of the way through when affair after affair became a bit tiresome. But there is much more, his political ideas and of course his novels ( confess I skipped over some of the descriptions of the later not wanting to spoil reading the actual book.)

Despite his flaws I came to like HG, a man ahead of his time in many ways, and who I felt always meant well. There is no way I would ever have picked up a lengthy biography of him, so Lodge has hopefully introduced many of us to a writer well worthy of reconsideration.

An enjoyable read, and an informative one.
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I am probably never going to read one of the more comprehensive biographies of H G Wells and I came to this book with a degree of confidence that although "fictionalised", David Lodge would have made a good job of presenting a rounded and fairly accurate picture of Wells and having read the book I have no reason to doubt that this is the case. The acknowledgements section at the end shows that Lodge read very widely about Wells and also the wide circle of his friends and contacts. As I read the book I got the impression that Wells had been Lodge's constant companion for some time, even to the extent of enabling him to conduct mock interviews with him (if you were spiritually-minded you might even think he'd been channelling Wells!).

These little interviews with Wells keep popping up at key points of Wells life and enable David Lodge to chalenge the great man on his behaviour. They can seem a bit hectoring at times but on the whole they work well.

Wells' behaviour was often so outrageous in how he treated young women that you almost wish Lodge had been able to conduct these "interviews" in person. In today's world we are so much more aware of the potential abusiveness of a wealthy, powerful man taking advantage of an adoring fan. And it wasn't just "having a fling" - Wells seemed to bind these young women to him over a number of years and in the case of Amber Reeves and Rebecca West, actually got them pregnant.

The mystery of course is how his wife Jane was able to cope with these affairs. She herself was unable to satisfy Wells sexually (or perhaps vice versa!) and at a relatively early stage of their marriage the couple entered into an agreement whereby he could more or less do what he wanted so long as he continued to provide for his family. Generally Wells was open with Jane about what was going on even to the extent of discussing his new conquests with her, but there were plenty of other assignations which went on behind the scenes - it seemed to be his usual practice when on a lecture tour to end up visiting a bordello as a reward to himself for a successful tour.

The book is not just about sex of course. Wells was a committed socialist and became a member of the Fabian Society, associating with people like George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice and Sidney Webb. He felt however that the Society was more interested in providing a debating forum rather than a launching pad for action. These well-heeled socialists would have been not a little disturbed at the prospect of having their comfortable lifestyles disturbed by a real revolution.

Wells' literary output was vast. He seemed to publish books that matched the public mood and his more scientifically-based books caught the public's imagination in their talk of aerial warfare, beings from other worlds and experiments on the fringes of science. Their success was largely down to their sheer readability and they sold in the hundreds of thousands. He produced novels in which he tried to illustrate his convictions about "Free Love" but learned that the public were not ready for these and the resulting outcry could damage his reputation. His lifestyle, with mistress after mistress, required vast amounts of money and books like The History of Mr Polly and Kipps were far more productive in terms of cash value than the more outlandish books on sexual politics.

Wells' self-belief was almost incredible. It is hard to understand how he could be so self-deceived in his assessment of the qualities of his personal relationships. He wouldn't last long in today's world of tabloid newspapers and political correctness and neither is it likely that his wife Jane would have held on so long in her demeaning role as house-keeper and sexual confidante.

I found A Man of Parts to be a fascinating read. It reads like a novel only because Lodge has steeped himself in Wells' life and times. For a novelist like David Lodge it must have been quite an experience to find that his subject was one it would have been difficult to invent as a fictional character, so outrageous were his pretensions and behaviour.
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on 7 April 2011
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.
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I have never been a great fan of H.G. Wells but I bought this book because I always enjoy anything by David Lodge. Wells does not come over as a particularly likeable person but there is no denying that he had a fascinating life. He rose up from humble beginnings to become one of the most famous writers in the world with his books being translated into many languages. He moved in the political and literary circles of the time and was continually taking on new ideas and engaging in furious arguments (and petty squabbles) with many people. But he still found time to engage in numerous seductions - often with women much younger than himself. These extra-marital affairs were often ignored (or even encouraged) by his second wife, Jane, and led to illegitimate children being born on at least two occasions. He was not physically attractive but his money and literary success seemed to have aphrodisiacal qualities!

In the 1900s he was politically attracted to the Fabians. There was much discussion about the social issues of the day: living conditions, the relief of poverty, the role of the family, women's suffrage and free love. Within Fabianism Wells became aware of many contradictions. Some of its leading members publicly espoused fidelity but were themselves engaging in adultery - and there were even hints at incest. Female suffrage was not fully endorsed. One member, Hubert Bland, wanted an independent Socialist party but was also a fervent Imperialist and was opposed to votes for women. His logic was that when capitalism was abolished there would be no need to vote! At that time there was much support for eugenics and Wells joined in the espousal of "eliminating" worthless sections of society.

David Lodge's research for the book has obviously been extensive and excellent. I confess I had not known Wells had produced so many books - a prodigious output. This is a readable and engaging book. By the end I felt I knew the man - but it did not make me want to read any of his books!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 September 2014
As much as I like David Lodge - I've read most of his novels - this one just didn't work for me. I gave up after about 100 pages. I didn't feel any connection with the characters, and there was no clear plot, other than Wells' life. Unlike Lodge's wonderful Author, Author, about Henry James, this one was flat and uninteresting.
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on 13 May 2014
Not probably what everyone would expect from David Lodge, yet this fictionalised biography has much to its credit. In sections it deals with the not insignificant social change that shaped much of HG Wells life from the late 19th Century through the austerity of the late 1940s. Literature, love, politics and the (many) women in his life cast a tale that portrays an imaginative, idealistic and liberal soul. A fan of his work when young, I feel moved to go read some of the less well known works for his extensive repertoire - and to spend some time looking up countless references on line. Heartily recommended.
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on 20 April 2012
I never realised just who H G Wells was, other than a writer of some quaint science fiction..... which of course dated very quickly.

This biography shows a complex and amazing character who was at the centre of much of the developments in the first half of the 20th century.

I will be rereading this, it was so good.
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