A Man of Parts, by David Lodge

A biographical novel about HG Wells, using a form not dissimilar to Author, Author.

I had only a vague idea of anything to to with HG Wells, and wasn't sure exactly why he would make a good topic for this type of novel, but he did a lot more than write a few SF romances, and seems to have led a a life that I would honestly have found implausible if its story had been the subject of fiction: not only was his writing output prodigious, but he also was involved in politics and seems to have had women almost literally throwing themselves at him for much of his life.

The writing was, as expected, lovely. I'm not sure it was as good as Author, Author but perhaps it was: in the other book I was taken aback by the quality of writing, and so when I came to this one I probably had higher expectations. I suppose also that he was trying to homage the different prose styles of the respective writers, and that James is a hard act to follow.

In fact, HG and James were contemporaries, and so some of the scenes in this book did have the sense of overlapping, with familiar names cropping up. They also corresponded, reviewing one another's books, and the letters that are quoted from James are full of typically "labyrinthine" sentences, to borrow a word from this book.

I think it's a measure of the power of the writing that I felt I was HG Wells while I was reading the book - or at least, I found myself thinking "I should be doing some more writing", and "Maybe I ought to have some extra-marital affairs" while I was reading the book.

I did find the framing device - with the aged HG being quizzed in his imagination by an impersonal alter-ego version of himself - a bit awkward, and would have preferred just to have the straight narrative.

Because this was an audiobook (quite a long one - about 18 CDs) that I listened to in the car, it was hard to make notes when there were passages I liked - and there were quite a lot. I only managed to write down a couple:

He dispatched a note into the dust of her departure.
For 25 years mura has been woven into the fabric of his life. At First a bright thread that appeared and vanished again for long intervals but later as a more and more prominent motif.

It did strike me that there are parallels (in terms of the writing, anyway) between HG Wells' career and that of Lodge, and I wonder whether these were deliberately highlighted. Specifically, Wells in later life, looking back over the novels he's written, and aware that the time left for leaving something significant behind is limited, and perhaps will be too short.

I can't imagine that this type of book is very commercial, but I'm really glad Lodge has written it (and Author, Author).

Actually I really fancy reading Author, Author again now.

Completed : 02-Nov-2011 (audiobook)

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