History Man

Bradbury, Malcolm. The History Man. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.

The Kirks are are an interesting couple. Howard Kirk is a professor of sociology with a “convenient” marriage. Both Howard and his wife, Barbara, take advantage of sexual relationships that further their causes and commitments. Right from the beginning you know they are bound for trouble. “So, sensing the climate, some people called the Kirks, a well-known couple, decide to have a party” (p 1). And this is how it begins. The History Man starts with a party and ends with a party, but a whole lot happens in between. Howard has liaisons with a colleague and a student while trying to seduce a third woman. Barbara spends her weekends running off to London for a “shopping” trip.

Howard Kirk starts a vicious buzz about campus about inviting Professor Mangel to give a lecture at the University of Watermouth. This creates an uproar as Mangel is seen as a racist, a sexist, a geneticist, and a fascist so no one can agree about his invitation.

There is a good dose of philosophy and psychology; a whole lot of explaining how people are and what makes them tick. I couldn’t decide if I really liked the Kirks. They reminded me of the Underwoods in House of Cards. They both seemed a little conniving. In the end I felt the most sorry for Barbara Kirk. She and her husband have an open relationship but, being a mother, she doesn’t have quite the same opportunities as Howard.

Reading History Man was a little tedious. For one, Bradbury likes to describe people’s actions step by step. Howard getting settled into his office. Barbara driving a car. Every movement is sometimes detailed creating pages and pages of one giant paragraph. Yet, at other times large moments in time are skipped all together. Howard could be talking to his wife at home one moment and the in the next moment he’s lying in bed with another woman.

As an aside, the author’s note is hysterical. It sets the tone for the entire story.

Line I liked: “Everywhere else the code is one of possibility, not denial” (p 71).

Reason read: Well, there are really two reasons: Malcolm Bradbury was born in September. History Man is about an academic and most schools start classes in September. My institution is the oddball who start classes the week before. No. I take that back. We have three days of classes, then have a long weekend, then the semester gets rolling.

Author fact: Malcolm Bradbury’s website is really cool. Everyone should check it out, if not for the information, for the photographs. But. The whole thing is great. Another article you should look up is one written by Tom Rosenthal back in 2006.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Academia: the joke” (p 4).



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