David Lodge’s A Man of Parts is probably not something I would have picked up years ago. The idea of reading a novel about H.G. Wells from an author known mainly for humorous novels that tend to be set in the world of academia? Oh yeah, I’d have politely passed the opportunity by.
As a classic author I’ve always read who I should read, Wells fascinates me enough, however, that in my 40th year I find myself passing by such foolishness and giving the book a read.
Boy am I glad I did.
A Man of Parts is a dense and delicious excursion into imagination and sexuality, both of Wells and ultimately of the readers ourselves. Focused on H.G. Wells in his later years of his life as he thinks back and (at least inwardly) confronts himself with whether or not he thinks he has amounted to anything at all, A Man of Parts shows us the glimpse of a man who accomplished much in his life but sits alone and afraid that he and those accomplishments will fade into obscurity with the passing of time; a man afraid of having lived a life solidly downhill from the bright peaks of his youthful successes.
As much of a literary lion Wells may seem to be from the lens of the past, Lodge also shows that Wells was very much a man with lion-sized appetites and indiscretions in his non-literary life. Perhaps the many affairs Wells had with women was a symptom of him needing to be needed? It certainly seemed as if he could not be content unless he was the center of some woman’s universe, body and soul.
Unless that woman was his wife, though.
Reading this I truly felt ashamed of his behavior, especially towards the women he married. More than that, I felt ashamed to be so interested in Wells that I ignored this shame and simply had to keep reading.
David Lodge’s portrayal of Wells is so damned compelling that the highest compliment I think I can give this work is that it made me immediately want to rush out and dust off the volumes of Wells that our local library has on its shelves, and read them in search of some glimpse of the man Lodge revealed to me.
It also made me want to read a lot more of David Lodge. Until now I had placed Lodge on the level of books my wife, an English professor, adores and is therefor “too smart” for me. A Man of Parts convinced me that “too smart” is just my way of saying I thought it was a book that was going to make me “work” to get at the meat of it.
A Man of Parts showed me that work on Lodge’s level was a two-way street and well worth the effort. If this man was able to put in so much work and passion in the research and writing of a novel, why should I be afraid to put forth the work and passion into the reading of it? The answer this book revealed to me is that I shouldn’t.
A Man of Parts might not be the loveliest portrait of H.G. Wells you will ever read, but it is one that makes the dusty old classic image of Wells a real and palpably potent man who demands your attention.
Simply and finally put, David Lodge has written a damn good book that deservedly finds itself one of the best books I’ve read this year.