A Man of Parts
David Lodge
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Buy *A Man of Parts* by David Lodge online

A Man of Parts
David Lodge
565 pages
September 2011
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Throughout Lodge’s meticulously researched A Man of Parts, we learn much about famous author and activist H.G Wells - not just his sexual peccadilloes, but his ability to subsist always on the periphery of Edwardian social mores as his natural intellectual genius wrenches him from a barebones working-class childhood in Bromley, Kent.

Marginalized for his avocations of free love, open marriage, and women’s rights, Wells’s refusal to let these issues define him is what makes his tale so immediate and personal - and so compelling. Apart from his early scientific romances, Wells life was most notable for its complete lack of self-definition. As he wrote and lectured, he embraced a bold new vision that included universal human rights, peace, and world government.

While his attempted leadership of The Fabian society (whose aim was to convert England to socialism) acts as the framework for much of Wells’s work, he is unable to resist inventing rockets, armored tanks and atomic weapons. His vivid imagination - although ridiculed at the turn of the century - becomes quite prophetic, his signs and portents coming to frightening fruition throughout Word War II.

In Normandy, the fate of Europe hangs in the balance while the trenches of Western France seethe with blood and squalor. Blackouts plunge London into pre-industrial gloom as Wells becomes more and more withdrawn, living in his own head and muttering to himself, his mind becoming "like a time machine" that travels backward in memory and forward in prophecy.

Steadily declining from liver cancer, Wells stares into the fire and wonders what the world will say about him when he dies. The controversial impact of his treatment of intimate relations in novels like Ann Veronica and the irregularities of his own sexual life will be discreetly veiled, given Wells’s age and distinction and the fact that Rebecca West is one of his only muses who is still alive but herself poorly. Their son Anthony must extricate himself from his own extramarital affair to visit his ailing father. From the outset, neither father nor son is exactly the model of fidelity.

Concentrating on Wells’s obsession to render women's tormented pangs of longing and the secret of his own sexual attraction, Lodge portrays a vibrant, brilliant man of many parts who spent most of his life bed-hopping with girls half his age. His wife, the petite, dainty, self-effacing Jane, clings into him in spite of his many infidelities, faithfully typing his manuscripts while he goes off whenever he feels the urge and beds whomever takes his fancy. But Jane’s enduring love inspires Wells to an unshakable loyalty; never one to reproach him, Jane bears Wells two children.

While his ribald sexual escapades are endlessly entertaining, Wells's internal voice remains the central focus as it questions his burgeoning authorship. In the process, we meet other literary novelists of growing reputation: Ford Maddox Hueffer, Joseph Conrad, E. M Forster, and Matthew Arnold, all bound by the strictures of society and class as they fight for recognition amid the chaos of the World War I.

Wells wrote to escape the preoccupations of his private and public life, converting his frustrations into literary magic. However, his affair with Rebecca West most defines the complexities of his existence and gives this novel its extraordinary emotional weight, reminding us how the author’s literary and sexual lives were so inextricably interlinked.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2011

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