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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mean spirited and not to be trusted..like Anthony Burgess
This book, which I found entertaining, is not meant to be a balanced appraisal of Anthony Burgess. It is instead deliberately egotistical, vindictive, overwritten, pompous, lacking warmth and strewn with arcane pointless footnotes. I think Lewis fibs quite a lot.

I think the author's intention was to create a portrait of Burgess that echoed Burgess's character...
Published on 15 Feb. 2011 by K. Mcnulty

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mercurial mess-up
Heavens! I'm astounded that anyone thought this was a serious academic biography. We have two possibilities: either it's the worst serious biography ever written, or it's not, in fact, a serious biography. I claim no special knowledge of Roger Lewis or his motivations, but knowledge of a smattering of his criticism and other works leads me to suppose the latter...
Published on 13 July 2012 by Jonners


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mean spirited and not to be trusted..like Anthony Burgess, 15 Feb. 2011
By 
K. Mcnulty (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Paperback)
This book, which I found entertaining, is not meant to be a balanced appraisal of Anthony Burgess. It is instead deliberately egotistical, vindictive, overwritten, pompous, lacking warmth and strewn with arcane pointless footnotes. I think Lewis fibs quite a lot.

I think the author's intention was to create a portrait of Burgess that echoed Burgess's character as he understood it. I can understand why some fans of Burgess do not like this approach, and would suggest that this book be read in conjunction with a more conventional biography. Thats's what I'm going to do anyway!

I think it obviously Lewis has tremendous respect for Burgess's productivity, his technical brilliance and his knowledge, but feels that something - the something that true genius has - was missing, and Lewis shows how this happened. The Burgess he presents is sad, lonely and disconnected from the world. Burgess used his talent to distance himnself from the world and not to engage with it. That's the impression I got anyway. I also felt that Lewis despite the style felt immensely sorry for Burgess, but rather that write something that was anaemic and conventional, discharged both barrels, this in order to get something about Burgess in the world that would be noticed. I think in some apparently perverse way it's a tribute to the man.

The book will enable me to get more out of rereading Clockwork Orange, A Dead Man in Deptford , Abba Abba......
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mercurial mess-up, 13 July 2012
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Paperback)
Heavens! I'm astounded that anyone thought this was a serious academic biography. We have two possibilities: either it's the worst serious biography ever written, or it's not, in fact, a serious biography. I claim no special knowledge of Roger Lewis or his motivations, but knowledge of a smattering of his criticism and other works leads me to suppose the latter proposition is the correct one.

What I think he (Lewis) is playing at here, is writing a 'biography' of Burgess in the style of Burgess, only with all the brakes off. It's a mendacious, paranoid, rambling, ludicrously erudite/falsely erudite, scorchingly rude farce, and it's a rumbustious way of setting out what Burgess could have been like, if only he hadn't been Burgess, and had the inner generosity, the guilty humility, and the gloriously eighteenth-century sense of humour that makes Burgess a unique geniu...well, if not a genius, a true game-changer, and an unforgettable writer. What I think Lewis is up to, in short, is quite deliberately painting himself to be a failed, squalid, chiselling writer, a pretender to the throne of the writer he really admires as a hero, even for all his faults, biographising Burgess as Burgess could only have done if he had lost what made him great.

It is quite possible that all this is a load of cobblers.

As I say, I claim no special knowledge of Lewis and his writing, though I have read a lot of Burgess with a reasonably critical eye. I might cite as possible reasons why Lewis has taken this approach:
Firstly, that he is trying to point up by pointing out what it was that made this deeply flawed man (Burgess) great, rather than the miserable misanthropic swine he appears at face value in Lewis' book (the greatnesses are seen greater when set against the flaws);
Secondly, that Burgess had already done the job of a proper academic biography on himself (give-or-take a few legally-induced mendacities) with his resplendent, garlicky and painfully honest two-volume autobiography "Big God and Little Wilson" and "You've Had Your Time";
Thirdly, that being in possession of this accurate (if personal) biography, what the world perhaps lacked was an innovative, critical biography fitting with Burgess' iconoclastic bent, rather than an independent assessment.

IF this was the process, then I accept what Lewis was trying to do, but also feel that he got it wrong. The fact is, that IF he intended to be understood the way I interpret him (or close to), then the vast majority of reviewers on here got it wrong, and interpreted something different. This effectively means that he didn't get his message across to the majority of readers - and the book therefore is a failure. Regardless of what one's intention was, in subtle demonstrations of relative character, if one doesn't reach one's intended audience, then one has had it, mate

Thus, while I think that, if my interpretation is correct, Lewis' attempt at a biography is a brilliant pathfinder, in practical terms, he seems to have fluffed it - you can't argue with the box office, after all, even if it does misunderstand what you're up to - and I suspect (perhaps snobbishly, for which, apologies) that the box office for Burgessiana is more switched-on, critically speaking, than the box office for, say, Rambo, or Dickens.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genre-fracturing work that dispenses with such conventions as those of chronology, intelligibility or rationality. Coruscating, 8 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Hardcover)
Roger Lewis's coruscating 'Anthony Burgess' has established itself as perhaps the greatest literary biography of the past hundred years. On display are exquisite critical taste and judgment, extraordinary depth of understanding, and the rich fruits of a lifetime's diligent, exhaustive and determined scholarship. Appealing widely to the specialist and layman alike, the work has taken its place with Painter's on Proust, Edel's on James, Ellmann's on Joyce, Brod's on Kafka and a very few others in the pantheon of masterpieces of the biographer's art.

By no means a hagiographer, Mr Lewis approaches his subject with intense seriousness and concentration, reading everything Burgess read, studying everything he studied, and travelling the world to see and hear and understand the many places — particularly in Asia — that were so important in making up the Burgess œuvre.

The rag-bag structure is revolutionary. The book is experimental, chaotic, inebriated, even delirious, dispensing with outworn conventions such as those of chronology, intelligibility or rationality. Mr Lewis mimics, satirises, subtly illuminates, faithfully represents rollicking Burgess's rambunctious life and literary style, Mr Lewis himself entering the narrative often, indeed from time to time taking it over so that the reader begins to apprehend that Mr Lewis is in many ways a greater figure than his subject.

Mr Lewis's masterstroke was to adopt a form that was consonant with the character of Burgess himself. 'I fractured the genre,' Mr Lewis has rightly stated. The form matches the content triumphantly, and it cannot be doubted that the way biographies are written has changed for ever.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Deranged, 7 April 2015
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This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Paperback)
This is the most deranged biography I have ever read. Starting from a position of active dislike that verges on outright contempt, Lewis flays his subject through more than 400 pages of snide vituperation that leaves you with a better picture of the author than it ever does of his subject. Whoever was paid to edit this book was stealing money - Lewis gets away with murder, stuffing the pages with extended footnotes that drool over several pages, and he doesn't even attempt to chart Burgess's life in any systematic way, merely providing a chronology at the start. This chronology is obviously regarded by the author as all that is required of him as a biographer, and he then goes on to stagger from point to point, detailing Burgess's shortcomings as writer and man. The trouble is that, underneath the abuse, Lewis makes several telling points about Burgess the writer, but it is all so buried beneath a mountain of detritus that it is easy to overlook. However, I cannot agree that 'Burgess was a great writer who never wrote a great book'. If one never reads another book by Burgess then Earthly Powers is the one to go for - a masterpiece that gets more astonishing with each reading. Perhaps his journalism is where his real genius lay, and that can be found in such books as Homage to Qwert Yuiop, but even his less successful novels contain interesting ideas that do not deserve the abusive they receive here.

Burgess deserves a proper appraisal, and perhaps we shall get it eventually. This book, however, traduces him at every turn and can only be recommended as a kind of psychological case study of the biographer rather then the biographee.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stars and Daggers, 24 Jun. 2005
By 
M. J. Saxton (Dewsbury, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Hardcover)
It is difficult to be enthusiastic about a book full of so much negativity, and footnotes.
Not only are we given relentless detail about what a dreadful man Burgess was, his manifold hang-ups, and personal obnoxiousness, but this biography's author also seems determined to vent his spleen in the reader's general direction.
In what is pretty dense prose in places, the colossal amount of footnotes does nothing to help the reader make sense of the chronology of Burgess' life.
What does emerge is the portrait of a complex human being, which is tantalisingly interesting, but with such sniping from the author at his subject, instead of insight, it seems hardly worth the bother of getting to the end.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars 'When a biographer hates his subject can he be trusted?'', 25 Oct. 2003
By 
Peter Leonard (Liskeard, Cornwall United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Hardcover)
John Wilson, aka Anthony Burgess, died in November 1993 the author of 32 novels, various televison/film scripts, translations from various languages of plays, opera libretti, etc, a composer in his own right, a televison personality, teacher, member of the royal society of literature, etc etc.
Here we have a biography that has taken, or so it's claimed, twenty years to write. And yet it makes no use of the major sources? Often quotes coversations from the past - from memory? - without sourcing the information. It is obviously a resentful book, but worse is basically flawed, especially with regard to the facts of Burgess / Wilson's life.
Further it ends in 1968? Thus twenty-five years of very (most?)productive life is ignored - who knows why? - and that part of Burgess' life that it does cover, consist of a number of wild and unsubstantiated assertions - which factually are wrong, and in some instances border on total absurdity.
Burgess doesn't deserve such shallow treatment. He was a great writer, a modern, who eperimented with form and style, and who enlarged the possibilites of the English novel for his contempories and those who follow after him.
A great disapointment as a true depiction of Burgess, but a good example of biography as fiction - very unconvincing fiction, to be sure.
We must all await a rational, well researched and calm biography of someone who was after all said and done a remarkable personality.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A parody of a biography, rather than a biography, 7 April 2003
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Hardcover)
Not quite a biography, not a lit crit study either, this extensive demolition job is designed to show that Burgess was "a parody of a great writer, rather than a great writer". Lewis's tone, though, is better conveyed by comments that Burgess was a "self-deluding prick" and generally by his asking at every turn what he hell Burgess thought he was playing at. Unfortuntely the biographer's mateyness is just as contrived as any of his subject's pretentiousness, and his footnotes, which sometimes take up 80 or 90% of a double page, go into great biographical detail about minor characters, which proves just as boring as the worst of Burgess's novels.
To be fair, Lewis is spot-on with most of his criticisms -- but the delivery is unkind, and the impression you're left with is of a hopelessly disillusioned former fan. By the end of the book, he has firmly associated Burgess with inhumanity (without much textual back-up), and with every writer he discusses he finds some common ground with Burgess -- the kiss of death. So Iris Murdoch grew too sentimental, the Elizabethans were "anti-art", the Beats were "evil" - never mind his main subject, Lewis doesn't like anyone else either. The irony is that the inhumanity he has come to loathe in Burgess's books is in evidence nowhere more than in his own work. The use of what he calls, in a different context, a "disillusioned Boswell" means that the book has a real narrative energy, but ultimately the question of why he wanted to spend 20 years writing about a writer he can't stand remains something of a mystery.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why one literary critic shouldn't write a biography of another?, 25 Jun. 2007
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Hardcover)
You may find this book very disturbing.

Not because of its subject matter, although few would dispute the claim that Burgess himself tried to be disturbing as often as he could.

It's disturbing because this 'biographer' seems to be in direct competition with him, using every weapon in the critic's arsenal to tear Burgess and his work to pieces so as to leave no doubt as to who was the better critic.

Nothing and nobody could ever come out of such a full-frontal literary assault with anything left in the mind of the reader but a curiosity as to why such a pathetic monstrosity had ever put pen to paper, or why anyone ever paid any attention to the ensuing drivel.

In order to answer the questions:

Who won?

Which of them was/is the better writer/critic/human being?

Were the criticisms of Burgess valid?

You would need to employ another writer to do a "double biography" of Burgess and Lewis.

But you'd need to make darned sure that 'third writer' doesn't feel inclined to treat either Burgess or Lewis with the lack of detachment that Lewis demonstrates when he's writing about Burgess, or you'd be none the wiser.

As with many 'contemptuous' (but large) biographies, there is so much genuinely intriguing detail here that it would seem churlish to dismiss it out of hand, either as a work of literary criticism (which in many senses it isn't, it's more of a 'personal criticism') or as a biography, a label which it often seems to be struggling (successfully) to avoid, as it instead indulges itself in (undeniably remarkable and pertinent) reflections and observations (many painstakingly compiled over the decades from sources other than the biographer or their subject) in its case for the prosecution, where the biographer also sets themselves up as Burgess's judge, jury and executioner.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hero no longer, 3 Sept. 2003
By 
C. M. Struik "cstruik" (Breukelen, Utrecht Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Hardcover)
I can't decide whether I'm happy to have read this biography. I used to admire Burgess and his work, and in the first one hundred pages I was rather indignant at the merciless attacks on man and work by Lewis. Later the evidence becomes so overwhelming that you have to admit there must be more flaws in the man and the writing than you'd be willing to admit. Lewis' knowledge of fact and fiction is astounding.
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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Onanistic rubbish, 3 April 2006
By 
A. J. Cowburn "aj_cowburn" (m-m-m-manchester) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Anthony Burgess (Paperback)
I think this autobiography finds itself wrongly labelled as biography. If you want to know what Roger Lewis (who? Exactly!) thinks about Stephen Fry's portrayal of Oscar Wilde and how Roger Lewis (who? Exactly!) enjoyed many fine dinners in the company of Richard Ellman, then this is just the book for you. Its endless self-referential footnotes sketch a portrait, overburdened with detail of the life and opinions of Roger Lewis (who? Exactly!). All this would be irritating and disappointing by itself but when Roger Lewis (who? Exactly!) goes on to call Anthony Burgess "egotistical" it is too much. I suppose scholarly and objective biography died with Richard Ellman. This piece of trash doesn't deserve the name.
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