A Man of Parts: A Novel

Written by David Lodge
Review by Doug Kemp

As I read this lengthy novel, I often needed to remind myself that it is a work of fiction and not biography. The author has produced such a well-sourced account of the life, times, loves, lusts and writings of H.G. Wells that it covers much of the ground that a biographical narrative would. David Lodge has used letters, memories and history to develop a life of Wells that shows the brilliance, complications and paradoxes of the then most renowned English writer in the early years of the 20th century.

There are many events and dialogue which can have come only from Lodge’s imagination, but he has endeavoured to ensure that all the fictional elements are commensurate with known events. It is fascinating account of a mostly well-known story, secured in the historical context of England in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries. Wells’ early struggles, his burgeoning literary reputation, battles with the Fabians, and most notoriously, his serial philandering, sexual appetite and highly unconventional marital arrangements are the essence of the tale. It is an absorbing read, divided between the omniscient biographical narrator, and sections where as an old and dying man, what seems to be Wells’ conscience is interrogating and asking him to justify his life and works. On balance, it works excellently, though some readers may find the style a little too grounded in a biographical progression to make it a truly soaring work of imaginative fiction.