Sunday, April 4, 2010

History of Mr. Polly, A Surprisingly Modern Novel from 1910

The History of Mr. Polly, by HG Wells (1910) is a tremendous break from the rest of his oeuvre, being nothing to do with invisible men or Martians or time travel (except in the way that it can transport today's reader back to 1910).  The Wife picked this out for me some dozen years ago at a used book shop and for some reason I got around to it this week.  (I am nothing if not untimely.)

It concerns a Mr. Polly (naturally) who stumbles after happiness making no particular plans, takes no risks, and really has very little success at it throughout, despite the windfall of a life insurance settlement and the opportunity to open his own haberdashery.  

It's got decent slapstick humor throughout, and its characters are unique and memorable.  The plotting seemed a bit jerky and uneven, though, and I struggled through the first two thirds of the book with the desire to put it down.  Everyone in the book seemed so damned unlikeable -- the main character most of all.  This isn't a fellow who does things, heavens no.  This is a fellow who things happen to

I think what kept me going was how shockingly 21st century modern his struggles seemed to be, even with bicycles jockying for space on English streets with horse-drawn carriages. 

A fool I was, to have thought that this kind of literary ennui had been invented by the late 20th century post-modernists.  Miserable, passive people have been passive and miserable for 100 years, at least!

The last third of the book picked up and made me downright happy, though.  Without spoiling too much I'll just say that our hero finally makes a couple of choices, and finds the sort of life that today's Vintage Crowd can heartily endorse.  Sort of makes the earlier struggles all worth it, O'man.

You can buy The History of Mr. Polly on Amazon, or get the ebook free from Manybooks.Net.  Hey, it looks like they made a movie from it in 2007, too.  You should probably read the book first, though!

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