Book Review – The Haunting of H. G. Wells by Robert Masello
First published, 1st October 2020 (Today, in fact. I’m a lucky lady)
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
A well-woven tapestry of fact and fiction, The Haunting of H. G. Wells follows the literary icon during the First World War.
The story begins with an account, seemingly from the Front, of a saintly visitation on the battlefield. Outflanked and outnumbered, the British soldiers seem set to be overwhelmed by the superior power of the German army, when suddenly, Saint George and a whole host of angelic bowmen appear to back their living allies.
And although the story is pretty rapidly retracted by its author, it’s too late. For the story of St George and the bowmen has already captured the hearts of the British public, and has proven enough for the War Office to send for celebrated, middle-aged, science fiction author, H. G. Wells. Within moments, and despite the inherent dangers of such a mission, H. G. agrees to go to the Front and send back reports to buoy British spirits. But he cannot know the trials that await him, nor the horrors of No Man’s Land.
I really think this is just the right novel for this time of year – it’s a proper autumn/winter, cuddle of a book. Beautifully written, with great characters, and a compelling, paranormal, wartime storyline, I devoured this book.
I don’t think you need to know anything about H. G. Wells before reading this book, although I’ll admit to being surprised by his pretty reckless infidelity.
Set in the county of Essex, in 1914, in some ways the narrative is terribly British – which I adored:
“She was a compact woman, no nonsense about her, brown hair tidily gathered in a bun.”
Chapter One, The Haunting of H.G. Wells by Robert Masello.
There was only one thing I didn’t like. As much as I respect that the author is American (and he’s brilliant, a new favourite of mine), the use of American English (color, flavor, candor, honor, eggplant, etc) in a book set, primarily, in early twentieth century Essex threw me off.
There’s a lot of action in the story, which I found really gripping, especially towards the end, but the sudden intrusion of the American spellings, and the use of “off of” (personal bugbear, drives me mad every single time) knocked me out of the story long enough for my attention to wander.
I know it might seem like nitpicking, but I promise it goes both ways. Were I to read a book set in Louisiana, with all the extra British Us in it, I would find myself rereading certain passages and frowning in confusion.
American spelling and an occasional sidewalk notwithstanding, it’s a great story and I really enjoyed it.
Thank you for the thoughtful, substantial review. Without the added international usage filter, I was occasionally distracted, myself, by sudden and inexplicable shifts in diction. Perhaps that is next to inevitable in a style that seems perfectly as ease with highly technical terminology from a number of fields, notably architecture and art history. The action, too, ranges widely from the ethereal to the glandularly carnal. In the author’s defense, each level of action is impressively well supported by unobtrusive cultural references, and for this provincial American reader, at least, Masello’s command of everyday details of life evoked an entirely plausible sense of the spirit of Edwardian England as it moved into an uncertain future of under George V. The backward-looking practices and attitudes so often encountered, both in London and in the countryside, seem quite well in keeping with a natural reference to the past as a guide to brighter days ahead. I found myself most impressed by Masello’s skill at weaving themes across varied social settings. Perhaps my preference in this respect is idiosyncratic; I have not encountered it in the reviews I have seen. (I must admit, I share your deep aversion to the locution “off of,” particularly in the context of building. It is painful to watch a metaphor die in the mouths of distracted users of the language.) Among the reviews I have seen, yours is easily the most perspicacious and helpful to your readers. Thank you for sharing an informed perspective on Masello’s careful evocation of a setting through which his characters moved, but with which readers today are unacquainted. (Well, I’ll speak for myself on that point, at least.) I must say, too, that I am drawn to the style of a writer who describes her own path through this bewildering world as “[m]oving seamlessly from one embarrassment to the next.” I myself would love to have such grace!
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