Rating: 3 out of 5.

Someone once told me that they could never again enjoy Harry Potter because they disagreed with the author’s political/cultural views. This was just after Rowling publishing an essay that has since become controversial, which I suspect most of the people who malign have never bothered to read, since it does not say most of what people claim it says – it’s a thoughtful piece struggling with a complex topic to which anyone with a modicum of wisdom or thought in their heads should admit there is no easy answer – but that is somewhat beside the point. My point is how sad it is that anyone would deny themselves good writing because of a non-topical disagreement with the author. It’s one thing for someone to dislike Ayn Rand’s books because they disagree with objectivism, since that philosophy forms the core of her books, but to dislike a fantasy series (that you previously enjoyed) because of completely unrelated politics?

No, I think that one need not like an author or their views in order to like their books, which is a good thing, because after reading Tomalin’s biography of HG Wells, he’s definitely not my favorite person. He was arrogant, entitled (ironic, considering his background), and had a massive chip on his shoulder, not to mention his relations with women. Still, plenty of people found him charming, including the author of this biography, who claims that she started off trying to write a biography of his youth, but was so fascinated by him that she decided to write his whole life, though for some reason she kept the title.

To read Tomalin’s writing, you would think that Wells could do no wrong, even excusing his abhorrent treatment of his first wife, and his debatably worse treatment of his second, not to mention many of his questionable affairs. In his youth, he ran away or refused to work on apprenticeships to which he was contracted, which Tomalin also seems to believe was perfectly justified. She also lauds his prolific writing of as many as seven thousand words a day. Is that supposed to be impressive? I’ve written seven thousand words in a day, and I have a day job. For a professional author to find that impressive makes me wonder how long she must take to finish her books.

Maybe that explains why this biography, for all that it covers much more than just the youthful portrait of HG Wells its title would indicate, feels incomplete. I might be spoiled by reading Chernow biographies, but this one was erratic, jumping about in time and place, without effective transitions or a linking narrative. Usually when I read a biography, I am swept up in the subject’s life, sympathize with them, understand them, and am sorry to reach the end, since they always die at the end, but that wasn’t the case with The Young HG Wells. No, I looked forward to reaching the end, so that I could read something else.

You know I don’t like to give negative reviews, but this book failed to scratch the itch I had to learn more about one of the grandfathers of science fiction. Perhaps that is in part because HG Wells, I learned, was not as much of a science fiction writer as I had believed. I’ve read books like The Time Machine (not this one), War of the Worlds, The War in the Air, The Invisible Man, but after those he took a more literary and/or political bent. Which is his right, but I have little interest in reading his other pieces, although a few of his short stories intrigue me.

Between the lackluster biographical writing, and my realization of my distaste for Wells’ views and choices, I’m afraid that I cannot recommend this book. I wish that the author had spent more time exploring how he came up with ideas for his famous stories, instead of explaining the autobiographical nature of his less famous ones. Still, I don’t intend to allow any of that to detract from my enjoyment of those Wells titles which do interest me, like the book that will be the subject of next week’s review, The Island of Doctor Moreau.

3 thoughts on “The Young HG Wells Review

  1. Very interesting review! If this biography is written the way you say it is, I think the negativity is totally fair. I don’t read many biographies, but when I do I want to learn about the person in a way that makes me feel like I understand them. I don’t want to just read hero worship, especially if it’s glossing over or making excuses for the person’s wrongdoings.

    I agree that you can enjoy books without liking the author as a person, though, and good thing, too! I’d have to do a ton of research all the time and surely strike a lot of books off my to be read list if that was the case.


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