11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The real Real Life,
This review is from: The Real Life of Anthony Burgess (Hardcover)
In seeking to encompass Anthony Burgess's life in 400 pages, Andrew Biswell has taken on quite a task. Not only did Burgess produce poetry, biography, autobiography, works on music and linguistics, screenplays, children's books, mountains of journalism and over thirty novels, but almost every claim he made about his life seems to have been disputed at one time or another. Biswell, though, proves to be more than up to it. He manages to resolve the various controversies with something that looks like finality. Did Burgess's father really come in one evening to find his wife and daughter dead of Spanish flu and the infant Burgess still alive next to them? The answer is yes; but Biswell re-dates the episode by reference to the death certificates, and points to inconsistencies in Burgess's subsequent re-tellings of the story. What of his claims to have been trepanned by Sir Roger Bannister and given a year to live, leading him to bang out five novels in twelve months? This has been believed widely, but it turns out not to be true. Biswell shows as much by digging out Sir Roger and asking him. The neurologist (and, of course, athlete) explains he never performed a trepanning because he was never a surgeon. Burgess's legendary prolificness must have had its roots elsewhere. In these cases and others, Biswell does not allow his evident affection for Burgess stop him puncturing his claims. Of course, the biography has its faults as well. It says nothing about the supposed rape of Burgess's wife by GIs, an event said to have inspired a passage in A Clockwork Orange but which subsequently has been called into doubt. Also there are moments where one suspects that, having done his research, Biswell is reluctant not to display the results - so we get to hear an account of English defamation law (Burgess didn't grasp it) and the ins and outs of a portal haemorrhage (Burgess's wife died of one). Still, this is at least educational, and throughout the book Biswell is forensic, thought-provoking and even-handed. This really is the real life.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Jan 2008 02:22:59 GMT
Good review. Let's have more.
Posted on 20 Dec 2010 14:32:12 GMT
Mark Slattery says:
I'm a big Burgess fan and have yet to select a biography. This review pushes me to think I should read it. As you say a vast man, a vast mind, and the task is Hurculean. Thanks.
Posted on 30 Jun 2012 15:30:54 BDT
I'm afraid this reviewer is quite mistaken when he avers that the excellent biography 'says nothing about the supposed rape of Burgess's wife by GIs..'. A glance at p 433 of the hardcover edition shows the following entry in the index: 'Wilson, Llewella... assaulted by American soldiers, 107-8, 207, 360'.
It's a very good biography of an almost impossibly difficult and complex subject.
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