F.R.'s Reviews > The History Man

The History Man by Malcolm Bradbury
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Jan 07, 11

really liked it

We are in the Seventies, a time where the sexual revolution is fully embedded and every ‘advanced’ marriage condones affairs and swinging. (After all, it adds to the spice and happiness of the union, and all right-minded people understand that monogamy is heavy.) The setting is a red brick English University, one that is freshly designed by the finest Finnish architect and is packed full with buildings named after eminent philosophers. Our protagonist is Howard Kirk, a Zapata moustachioed, right-on, radical Sociology lecturer – who no longer has any bourgeois sexual hang-ups and is constantly railing against the liberal reactionary forces. ‘Fascist’ is another commonly thrown insult from his arsenal. Except that Dr Kirk might not be as cool as he – and his cronies – would like to believe. In fact it becomes clear that he is deeply selfish, truly intolerant of the opinions of others and motivated solely by his own desires. Fortunately, the loose mores of the world he inhabits means that he can get away with that, whilst still looking like a right-on and with it, all round good guy.

Although it’s only thirty-six years old, reading this book is like entering a time warp. The characters, situations, moral judgements and values are all as far removed from us now in 2011 as the worlds of Austen and Dickens. My own experience of British universities might be a tad dated, but it wasn’t like that then and I doubt it’s reverted now we’re in the Twenty-First century. That being said, it’s a wonderfully conjured world that really gives you a sense of time and place. It is also an incredibly witty read, with many great lines and comic situations. However, at points 'The History Man' is a hard novel to get through. The author is obviously out to eviscerate Kirk and his ilk, and the book does that admirably, but it’s still a long time to spend with a deeply unpleasant, self-satisfied character – even if we are supposed to come away hating him.

If you have a desire for fine witty writing, lava lamps and an expose of how the sexual revolution could be exploited, this is definitely a recommended read.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Corey I love Malcolm Bradbury and this is one of his best.

F.R. To my shame I've never actually read anything by him before, what would you recommend?

Corey I think Eating People is Wrong is as good as The History Man. And it's one of the greatest titles of all time.

F.R. Thank you very much.

message 5: by Charles Dee (new)

Charles Dee Mitchell I read Bradbury in the 80's and this makes me think I should take another look. For the lava lamps if nothing else. All Souls by Javier Marias is another great look at university life, this time from the perspective of an outside, a visiting Spanish professor.

F.R. Thanks for the tip, I might take a look at that.

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