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The Boundless Brain Of Mr. Burgess,
This review is from: Conversations with Anthony Burgess (Literary Conversations) (Paperback)
As a great fan of Anthony Burgess I was enormously pleased to discover that this collection of his interviews had recently been published. For me fiction really doesn't get much better than Burgess. He was the last of an extraordinary kind, a literary magician whose every fictional creation contained something to marvel at and whose wild imagination knew no restraint. So absurd is my devotion that I have sought out a vast quantity of his writings. And yet, as familiar as the details of Burgess's life and work are to me, I discovered a great deal about my hero in this book that was new.
Like most authors Burgess used prose as a form of mask, not only when he was writing fiction but also when he was writing book reviews and other articles. He clearly enjoyed his reputation as a man of letters and the opportunity this gave him to proclaim his views. For this reason this collection of interviews is very interesting because it is in this spontaneous, unpredictable situation that we for once encounter the 'real' Burgess and hear the voice of the man as opposed to the highly polished words of the author.
And what a stunning variety of questions our man is asked in the course of these pages! From queries of profound seriousness about the nature of literature and the complex matter of his Catholic faith to his opinions on (what were then) current affairs, American education and even his thoughts on the disaster movie, Burgess is beseiged with all manner of subjects and responds with glorious aplomb. Burgess was one of the last great polymaths, knowledgeable about low culture as well as high. Like William Hazlitt or Dr. Johnson, it's stimulating to see that colossal brain, packed with unique ideas, dive and swoop from one topic to another, considering all that comes before him with equal curiosity, wonder and amusement. It's very easy to forget that Burgess was born in 1917, so up-to-date and flexible is his intellect.
More specifically, it's intriguing to read Burgess's opinions on his own work, a subject he rarely got an opportunity to expound on. At present I am writing a dissertation on Burgess's fiction and found many of his speculations about the nature of his craft and the relationship of fantasy and reality very intriguing and useful for my research. Burgess's comments on the Enderby books, Tremor of Intent, A Clockwork Orange(a book that was clearly not Burgess's favourite of his own novels), M/F( an amazing little novel that clearly was)and the fantastic Earthly Powers are the witty, world weary lessons of a man who tried practically everything in the world of fiction and who was still happy to admit that he was unsure why some succeded while others did not.
To have all of these pieces, and especially the near-thirty page Paris Review interview, together between two covers is a splendid thing. Burgess is a figure whose achievement only seems greater as the years pass, but aside from his work it is fabulous to be in the company of someone who lived such a unique life, and who came so close to a genius as Burgess. It is impossible to read this book without thinking about all the mad adventures and improbable situations that came before, after and in between these fleeting moments of calm when Burgess had the opportunity to speak his mind.
My only fault with this book is that the final piece, one of the last major interviews Burgess ever gave, is only included in a truncated state and ends just when things get interesting. Aside from this, I must give full credit to the editors for gathering together such a varied collection and providing them for the edification of a whole new generation of Burgess fans. But one last question: Why can't there be more characters like Saint Anthony around today to populate the literary world?
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