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on 27 August 2003
For those who, like me, were always put off HG Wells through a mistaken belief that he was a science fiction writer, The History of Mr Polly may well come as a pleasant surprise.
The book is the reassuring tale of one mans eventful stumble toward utopia, which should offer hope to fretful drifters the world over.
Three quarters of the book chronicles the painfully comic descent of Mr Polly from youthful apprentice in a leading department store to the middle aged, unhappily married and bankrupt-in-all-but-name owner of a regional gentlemans outfitters. Mr Polly manages to gain weight, while his hair recedes and number of friends dwindle. Polly retreats behind the pages of his beloved books, until he finally decides to put an end to his increasingly miserable existence. This is the turning point of Mr Polly's life. He comes out of the botched attempt a hero, yet rejects his previous life and goes off in search of a new one. This Mr Polly finds.
Although the tone of the novel is definitely black this book should definitely leave you feeling good about yourself. It offers hope that a happy life is out there for everyone and that it is never too late to go out and find it.
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on 5 May 2006
Not being a fan of science fiction, I had never troubled to read anything by Wells before. However I picked this book up and found myself unable to put it down. The core themes (mid-life crisis and career break, bridging the gap between romantic ideals and the humdrum nature of marriage) seemed to me even more relevant to 21st century living than to when Wells was writing. The characters were well drawn, the style fluent and poetic and Polly's (Wells'?) sense of humour suited me down to the ground! Definitely a book to return to.
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on 9 August 2001
This great novel gives a fantastic account of rural Enland in the early 19th century, the list given of his jobs and chores at a countryside inn is spellbinding. I imagine Wells wanted it to be long and comprehensive to show what a busy chap Mr Polly would be, today it reads like an evocation of lost arts and crafts. i wonder if anyone still does any of the repair jobs on machinery and buildings. Plus, they look very tiring, or extremeliciously fatigatious as Mr Polly might have said, his use of language an neologisms being a glorious additition to the book and dialogue.
He is not an all round good egg by any means, but you can't help but like him. His joy at finding people who listen to him and enjoy his books is infectious through the pages and reminds me of the end of Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square when the principal character is appreciated for once due to his good nature and conversation. While he has his darker side he is one of the great fictional creations.
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on 25 June 2009
Wells' anatomy of Mr Polly reflects what many people experience in their lives, hopes dashed, frustration and the stupidity and petty inequalities of life but leavened with an underlying hope in a better future and a categorical rejection of the sort of mainstream values that might best be termed "keeping up with the Jones'". Beautifully written reflecting the values of English society at that time but also a manifesto for personal change.

It remains vital and relevant today because the underlying themes Wells identifies such as feeling trapped in an unhappy marriage, dislike of your job, and constrained by circumstance remain common today, what is so liberating about Mr Polly is his clumsy, but ultimately successful attempts to change his life
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on 10 December 2013
Although know for his Sci-Fi novels, Wells' Mr Polly is a magnificent book full of a wonderful selection of characters set in a great era. Following the life of Mr Polly, the book sees him struggle with the workings of day to day like and his attempt to find just where he belongs in the world.

Mr Polly leads a somewhat sad life, wasting much of it in a loveless marriage and working a fruitless job. He finally decides to end it all, but this leads him to a new lease of life that might just lead him to a way of like he would embrace and enjoy, rather then struggle through the life he was expected to live.

This is one of my all time favourite novels and shows just how versatile the author is, highly recommended.
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on 2 October 2014
'The History of Mr Polly' is a charming, comic, faintly melancholic portrait of a man of the lower middle classes struggling to find purpose and fulfilment in his provincial, Edwardian English life.

Though distinctly of its place and time, the novel, through the character of Mr Polly, manages to tackle, with some gusto and personality, the universal and timeless questions of modern day existence: is the drudgery of the workaday world really worth enduring? Are we inescapably trapped? What of love and beauty and bliss?

I've not encountered a great many misfitting, uninspired, thwarted protagonists, such as Alfred Polly, in my reading. Okay, post-war American literature does feature a fair array of drop-out, anti-hero types but quite unlike Polly: awkward, jolly, inept, silly; a little bit pompous and self-regarding (I'm thinking of his linguistic contortions) and completely self-defeating with it. Well's unflinchingly reveals the totality of a mediocre man crushed by conventions and a miserable lot. No bravado, no machismo, no sensational descent into addiction or depravity. Just the bothersome reality of the Edwardian squeeze. (Admittedly, there is a sensational self-destructive effort, but typically, botched and comical.)

Polly is a likeable cove. And to a fellow misguided, thwarted individual of a horribly more modernacious era, remains a stirring inspiration.
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on 23 January 2005
The History of Mr Polly tells the story of the almost accidental life that the eponymous hero pretty much stumbles through, until, facing bankruptcy, he decides to take some drastic measures. Beginning with his nadir, the first third of the book is taken up with describing how he got there, the second third with what he then decides to do, and the final third with the unexpected results.
It's a subtle observation of how people drift through life and the possibilities that open up to us when we pull off the blinkers of circumstance. In a key passage the narrator reminds us that, if we are strong enough and can face the consequences, we can get out of our situation.
It's a very Dickensian subject, and Wells writes with a similar wit, although the central character perhaps lacks some sympathy. The final third, being the least mundane and the most unexpected, is also the most enjoyable, but by then I'd grown a little disinterested in Polly's history and wanted something more escapist.
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on 15 July 2016
As a teenager (perhaps before that) I read all Wells' science fiction classics end to end. Of course, in more mature years, I grew to understand the subtext of each; the social and political undercurrents.

Only recently, loading up my Kindle with those titles, I thought I might give Mr Polly a go. What a delightful surprise.
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on 6 April 2016
Please do not waste your money on this edition of the book. It is so badly printed as to be illegible. There is no formatting. The font size is miniscule, with 200+ pages in the classic edition other readers in my book club had crammed into around 100 pages. I could not read a page without getting a headache!
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on 24 October 2011
Anyone who is familiar with Philip Larkin's poem "Self's the Man" will know what to expect here. A man trapped in a marriage to a woman he barely cared for in the first place, a failing business, and no friends or neighbours to speak of. This is the first non-sci fi novel by HG Wells I have read and it is a treat. Essential reading for any married man who now considers a weekend trip to IKEA as "a day out".
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